Influence of water based embedding media composition on the relaxation properties of fixed tissue

Ivan Vučković, Tarek Nayfeh, Prasanna K. Mishra, Sigapriya Periyanan, Caroline R. Sussman, Timothy L. Kline, Slobodan Macura

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: In MRI of formalin-fixed tissue one of the problems is the dependence of tissue relaxation properties on formalin composition and composition of embedding medium (EM) used for scanning. In this study, we investigated molecular mechanisms by which the EM composition affects T2 relaxation directly and T1 relaxation indirectly. Objective: To identify principal components of formaldehyde based EM and the mechanism by which they affect relaxation properties of fixed tissue. Methods: We recorded high resolution 1H NMR spectra of common formalin fixatives at temperatures in the range of 5 °C to 45 °C. We also measured T1 and T2 relaxation times of various organs of formalin fixed (FF) zebrafish at 7 T at 21 °C and 31 °C in several EM with and without fixative or gadolinium contrast agents. Results: We showed that the major source of T2 variability is chemical exchange between protons from EM hydroxyls and water, mediated by the presence of phosphate ions. The exchange rate increases with temperature, formaldehyde concentration in EM and phosphate concentration in EM. Depending on which side of the coalescence the system resides, the temperature increase can lead to either shortening or prolongation of T2, or to no noticeable change at all when very close to the coalescence. Chemical exchange can be minimized by washing out from EM the fixative, the phosphate or both. Conclusion: The dependence of T2 in fixed tissue on the fixative origin and composition described in prior literature could be attributed to the phosphate buffer accelerated chemical exchange among the fixative hydroxyls and the tissue water. More consistent results in the relaxation measurements could be obtained by stricter control of the fixative composition or by scanning fixed tissue in PBS without fixative.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7-17
Number of pages11
JournalMagnetic Resonance Imaging
StatePublished - Apr 2020


  • Chemical exchange
  • Formalin concentration
  • Formalin fixation
  • Labile protons
  • Relaxation properties of formalin
  • Tissue MRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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