Direct magnetic resonance detection of myelin and prospects for quantitative imaging of myelin density

Michael J. Wilhelm, Henry H. Ong, Suzanne L. Wehrli, Cheng Li, Ping Huei Tsai, David B. Hackney, Felix W. Wehrli

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124 Citations (Scopus)


Magnetic resonance imaging has previously demonstrated its potential for indirectly mapping myelin density, either by relaxometric detection of myelin water or magnetization transfer. Here, we investigated whether myelin can be detected and possibly quantified directly. We identified the spectrum of myelin in the spinal cord in situ as well as in myelin lipids extracted via a sucrose gradient method, and investigated its spectral properties. High-resolution solution NMR spectroscopy showed the extract composition to be in agreement with myelin's known chemical make-up. The 400-MHz 1H spectrum of the myelin extract, at 20°C (room temperature) and 37°C, consists of a narrow water resonance superimposed on a broad envelope shifted ∼3.5 ppm upfield, suggestive of long-chain methylene protons. Superimposed on this signal are narrow components resulting from functional groups matching the chemical shifts of the constituents making up myelin lipids. The spectrum could be modeled as a sum of super-Lorentzians with a T 2*distribution covering a wide range of values (0.008-26 ms). Overall, there was a high degree of similarity between the spectral properties of extracted myelin lipids and those found in neural tissue. The normalized difference spectrum had the hallmarks of membrane proteins, not present in the myelin extract. Using 3D radially ramp-sampled proton MRI, with a combination of adiabatic inversion and echo subtraction, the feasibility of direct myelin imaging in situ is demonstrated. Last, the integrated signal from myelin suspensions is shown, both spectroscopically and by imaging, to scale with concentration, suggesting the potential for quantitative determination of myelin density.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9605-9610
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - Jun 12 2012


  • Myelin NMR spectrum
  • Myelin in situ
  • Super-Lorentzian fitting
  • Ultrashort echo time

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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