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OSIPI Inventory of ASL Pipelines

Petr, J.


Cerebral blood flow (CBF) is an important physiological parameter for assessing cerebrovascular health and blood flow demand both in healthy and diseased conditions [refs]. Arterial spin labeling (ASL) perfusion MRI provides a non-contrast acquisition method for quantification of regional CBF. Its non-invasive nature and ability to quantify absolute CBF make it ideal in research and clinical settings requiring repeated acquisitions. ASL-MRI has been extensively validated with other methods that use exogenous contrast agents, such as 15O-H2O-PET and dynamic susceptibility contrast MRI (DSC) (1–6), and has already shown extensive impact on the neurological, neuropsychological, and neuropsychiatric research fields [refs].

ASL involves i) magnetic labeling of the arterial blood water while it flows through internal carotid and vertebral arteries that supply blood to the brain, ii) acquiring a “labeled” brain image after waiting for a brief period to allow the blood to reach the capillaries, and iii) computing a perfusion-weighted image by subtracting the labeled image from a “control” image obtained without labeling. Depending on the methods of spin labeling and image acquisition, ASL can vary significantly and has undergone significant improvement since its inception (7). For example, the labeling can be performed at the neck using pseudo-continuous ASL (PCASL) (8) or pulsed ASL (PASL) (9) or close to the site of imaging using velocity selective imaging (10). Image readout can be performed using 2D echo-planar imaging (EPI) (11), 3D gradient and spin-echo (GRASE) (12), or 3D spiral imaging (13). Each type of image acquisition can be associated with background suppression of static tissue to increase the signal-to-noise ratio (14). Additionally, the post-labeling delay (PLD) can be fixed or variable (single-PLD or multi-PLD) or obtained using a time-encoding technique (15).

These differences lead to greater heterogeneity of data types in ASL MRI than typically seen in other MRI modalities and a consensus recommendation on acquisition has been formed (16) to facilitate its use in different settings. Nonetheless, different flavors of ASL are still in use based on the availability of specific protocols or scanners, and the expertise of the clinicians and investigators at the clinical or research sites. Most scanners, however, output only the raw ASL data, and the end-users need to derive the quantitative CBF maps from that. Therefore, many potential users such as radiologists and neuroscientists, who may not have the technical expertise, have to struggle their way through implementing these processing steps and finding a suitable software. And a recent European survey noted that technical difficulty and lack of tools are indeed one of the main hurdles to the more widespread use of ASL and quantitative MRI in general (17).

While more than twenty ASL toolboxes have been released (18–30), there is even a higher variety of different ASL sequences, data formats (31), and processing methods (19). As there is no standard defined for ASL image processing, it can be a daunting process to identify a pipeline that is suitable and optimal for users’ needs. Both new and experienced ASL users looking for different functionalities, and the ASL research field in general, may benefit from a comprehensive and detailed list of ASL image processing software to guide this search.

The Open Science Initiative for Perfusion Imaging (OSIPI) is an initiative of the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM) perfusion study group. Established in May 2020, its mission is to create open access resources for perfusion imaging research to improve the reproducibility of perfusion imaging research, speed up the translation into tools for discovery science, drug development, and clinical practice, and eliminate the practice of duplicate development [ref]. The activities of OSIPI were divided among task forces; Task Force 1.1 (TF1.1) aims to create an inventory of the available ASL pipelines, summarizing their features and requirements, thus making the pipelines more accessible to ASL users. This study provides a comprehensive list of pipelines available, listing their features. Additionally, it delivers an independent assessment of the user-friendliness of the pipelines and the technical level needed for operating the pipeline.

Involved research facilities

  • PET-Center
  • Invited lecture (Conferences)
    ISMRM '22 Workshop on Perfusion MRI: From Head to Toe, 04.-07.03.2022, Los Angeles, USA


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