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CEST MRI and MALDI imaging reveal metabolic alterations in the cervical lymph nodes of EAE mice

Thomas, AM;Yang, E;Smith, MD;Chu, C;Calabresi, PA;Glunde, K;van Zijl, PCM;Bulte, JWM;

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurodegenerative disease, wherein aberrant immune cells target myelin-ensheathed nerves. Conventional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be performed to monitor damage to the central nervous system that results from previous inflammation; however, these imaging biomarkers are not necessarily indicative of active, progressive stages of the disease. The immune cells responsible for MS are first activated and sensitized to myelin in lymph nodes (LNs). Here, we present a new strategy for monitoring active disease activity in MS, chemical exchange saturation transfer (CEST) MRI of LNs.We studied the potential utility of conventional (T2-weighted) and CEST MRI to monitor changes in these LNs during disease progression in an experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) model. We found CEST signal changes corresponded temporally with disease activity. CEST signals at the 3.2 ppm frequency during the active stage of EAE correlated significantly with the cellular (flow cytometry) and metabolic (mass spectrometry imaging) composition of the LNs, as well as immune cell infiltration into brain and spinal cord tissue. Correlating primary metabolites as identified by matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI) imaging included alanine, lactate, leucine, malate, and phenylalanine.Taken together, we demonstrate the utility of CEST MRI signal changes in superficial cervical LNs as a complementary imaging biomarker for monitoring disease activity in MS. CEST MRI biomarkers corresponded to disease activity, correlated with immune activation (surface markers, antigen-stimulated proliferation), and correlated with LN metabolite levels.