Susceptibility weighted imaging (SWI) is an MRI sequence which is particularly sensitive to compounds which distort the local magnetic field and as such make it useful in detecting blood products, calcium, etc.
SWI is a 3D high-spatial resolution fully velocity corrected gradient echo MRI sequence 1-3. Compounds which have paramagnetic, diamagnetic, and ferromagnetic properties all interact with the local magnetic field distorting it and thus altering the phase of local tissue which, in turn, results in loss of signal 2.
Paramagnetic compounds include deoxyhaemoglobin, ferritin and hemosiderin 1.
Diamagnetic compounds include bone minerals and dystrophic calcifications 1.
Following the acquisition, post-processing takes place which includes the application of a phase map to accentuate the directly observed signal loss 2.
Typically the images presented are:
- filtered phase
- SWI (combined post processed magnitude and phase)
- SWI minimum intensity projection (mIP)
The most common use of SWI is for the identification of small amounts of haemorrhage/blood products or calcium, both of which may be inapparent on other MRI sequences.
Distinguishing between calcification (made up primarily of calcium phosphate, but also containing very small amounts of copper (Cu), manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn), magnesium (Mg), and iron (Fe)) 3 and blood products is not possible on the post-processed SWI images as both demonstrate signal drop out and blooming.
The filtered phase images are however able to (in most cases) distinguish between the two as diamagnetic and paramagnetic compounds will affect phase differently (i.e. veins/haemorrhage and calcification will appear of opposite signal intensity) 3.
Windowing and grey scale inversion
Filtered phase images are not uniformly windowed or presented by all manufacturers and as such care must be taken to ensure correct interpretation. A simple step to make sure that you always view the images in the same way is to look at venous structures and make sure they are of low signal (if bright you should invert the grey scale). Then window the image narrowly such that the image appears a little reminiscent of a dark CT of the brain. Calcifications will now appear bright (white).
Although filtered phase images are probably more sensitive to minimal amounts of calcium than CT 3, they perform poorly and can be confusing for larger amounts of calcification. When the ﬁeld is large enough that the phase exceeds π (pi) radians, it will alias to -π radians and will now appear to be dark rather than bright 3. The net effect is that large regions of calcifications can have areas that appear dark, or be surrounded by dark regions.
- 1. Schweser F, Deistung A, Lehr BW et-al. Differentiation between diamagnetic and paramagnetic cerebral lesions based on magnetic susceptibility mapping. Med Phys. 2010;37 (10): 5165-78. - Pubmed citation
- 2. Tong KA, Ashwal S, Obenaus A et-al. Susceptibility-weighted MR imaging: a review of clinical applications in children. AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 2008;29 (1): 9-17. doi:10.3174/ajnr.A0786 - Pubmed citation
- 3. Wu Z, Mittal S, Kish K et-al. Identification of calcification with MRI using susceptibility-weighted imaging: a case study. J Magn Reson Imaging. 2009;29 (1): 177-82. doi:10.1002/jmri.21617 - Free text at pubmed - Pubmed citation