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Magic angle effect - MRI artefact

The magic angle is an MRI artefact which occurs on sequences with a short TE (less than 32ms; T1W sequences, PD sequences and gradient echo sequences). 

It is confined to regions of tightly bound collagen at 54.74° from the main magnetic field (Bo), and appears hyper intense, thus potentially being mistaken for tendonopathy.

In tightly bound collagens, water molleules are restricted usually causing very short T2 times, accounting for the lack of signal. When molecules lie at 54.74° there is lengthening of T2 times with corresponding increase in signal.

The reason for this change is due to quantum mechanics: in the set of equations that describe the interaction of spins (their Hamiltonian), there are several terms that are orientation-dependent. Normally, these orientations are averaged over as protons tumble around thermally, but in sites with long-range order these terms can be important. In the case of structured collagen, lots of water binds to the outside of the protein, and therefore exhibits an orientation-dependent effect.

Typical sites include :

  • proximal part of the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL)
  • peroneal tendons as they hook around the lateral malleolus.
  • cartilage can also be affected e.g. femoral condyles
  • supraspinatus tendon
  • triangular fibrocartilage complex (if the patient is imaged with the arm elevated)

It appears that at 3.0T the effects are reduced.

Tends to occur only on short TE sequences (e.g. T1, GRE, PD) - sequences with a longer TE (e.g. T2 including FSE T2) can be used to avoid this artefact.

Other non-pathologic causes of high signal within tendons include near tendon insertions, and/or where the tendon normally fans out or merges with other tendons.


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