Normal human and sheep fetal vessel oxygen saturations by T2 magnetic resonance imaging

Saini BS, Darby JRT, Portnoy S, Sun L, van Amerom J, Lock MC, Soo JY, Holman SL, Perumal SR, Kingdom JC, Sled JG, Macgowan CK, Morrison JL, Seed M.J Physiol. 2020 May 5. doi: 10.1113/JP279725. Online ahead of print.PMID: 32372463


Key points: Human fetal Doppler ultrasound and invasive blood gas measurements obtained by cordocentesis or at the time of delivery reveal similarities with sheep (an extensively used model for human fetal cardiovascular physiology). Oxygen saturation (SO2 ) measurements in human fetuses have been limited to the umbilical and scalp vessels, providing little information about normal regional SO2 differences in the fetus. Blood T2 MRI relaxometry presents a non-invasive measure of SO2 in the major fetal vessels. This study presents the first in vivo validation of fetal vessel T2 oximetry against the in vitro T2-SO2 relationship using catheterized sheep fetuses and compares the normal SO2 in the major vessels between the human and sheep fetal circulations. Human fetal vessel SO2 by T2 MRI confirms many similarities with the sheep fetal circulation and is able to demonstrate regional differences in SO2 ; in particular the significantly higher SO2 in the left versus right heart.

Abstract: Blood T2 magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) relaxometry non-invasively measures oxygen saturation (SO2 ) in major vessels but has not been validated in fetuses in vivo. We compared the blood T2-SO2 relationship in vitro (tubes) and in vivo (vessels) in sheep, and measured SO2 across the normal human and sheep fetal circulations by T2. Singleton pregnant ewes underwent surgery to implant vascular catheters. In vitro and in vivo sheep blood T2 measurements were related to corresponding SO2 measured using a blood gas analyser, as well as relating T2 and SO2 of human fetal blood in vitro. MRI oximetry was performed in the major vessels of 30 human fetuses at 36 weeks (term, 40 weeks) and 10 fetal sheep (125 days; term, 150 days). The fidelity of in vivo fetal T2 oximetry was confirmed through comparison of in vitro and in vivo sheep blood T2-SO2 relationships (P = 0.1). SO2 was similar between human and sheep fetuses, as was the fetal oxygen extraction fraction (human, 33 ± 11%; sheep, 34 ± 7%; P = 0.798). The presence of streaming in the human fetal circulation was demonstrated by the SO2 gradient between the ascending aorta (68 ± 10%) and the main pulmonary artery (49 ± 9%; P < 0.001). Human and sheep fetal vessel MRI oximetry based on T2 is a validated approach that confirms the presence of streaming of umbilical venous blood towards the heart and brain. Streaming is important in ensuring oxygen delivery to these organs and its disruption may have important implications for organ development, especially in conditions such as congenital heart disease and fetal growth restriction.