Chemical exchange saturation transfer (CEST) provides an indirect means to detect exchangeable protons within tissues through their effects on the water signal. Previous studies have suggested that amide proton transfer (APT) imaging, a specific form of CEST, detects endogenous amide protons with a resonance frequency offset 3.5 ppm downfield from water, and thus may be sensitive to variations in mobile proteins/peptides in tumors. However, as CEST measurements are influenced by various confounding effects, such as spillover saturation, magnetization transfer (MT) and MT asymmetry, the mechanism or degree of increased APT signal in tumors is not certain. In addition to APT, nuclear Overhauser enhancement (NOE) effects upfield from water may also provide distinct information on tissue composition. In the current study, APT, NOE and several other MR parameters were measured and compared comprehensively in order to elucidate the origins of APT and NOE contrasts in tumors at 9.4 T. In addition to conventional CEST methods, a new intrinsic inverse metric was applied to correct for relaxation and other effects. After corrections for spillover, MT and T1 effects, corrected APT in tumors was found not to be significantly different from that in normal tissues, but corrected NOE effects in tumors showed significant decreases compared with those in normal tissues. Biochemical measurements verified that there was no significant enhancement of protein contents in the tumors studied, consistent with the corrected APT measurements and previous literature, whereas quantitative MT data showed decreases in the fractions of immobile macromolecules in tumors. Our results may assist in the better understanding of the contrast depicted by CEST imaging in tumors, and in the development of improved APT and NOE measurements for cancer imaging.
Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.