Three-dimensional muscular architecture of the human tongue determined in vivo with diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging.

Date Published:

2005 Winter


The myoarchitecture of the tongue is believed to consist of a complex network of interwoven fibers, which function together to produce a near limitless array of functional deformations. These deformations contribute mechanically to speech production and to oral cavity food handling during swallowing. We have previously imaged the 3D myoarchitecture of the mammalian tongue in excised tissue with diffusion tensor MRI, a technique which derives the 3D orientation of intramural fibers as a function of the extent to which a direction-specific MR signal attenuates under diffusion-encoding magnetic gradients. The resulting 3D diffusion tensor defines the relative orientations of the myofiber populations within a region of tissue. In this study, we have extended the use of this method to assess lingual myoarchitecture in normal human subjects in vivo. Subjects were imaged using a diffusion-sensitive stimulated-echo pulse sequence with single-shot echo-planar spatial encoding in the midsagittal plane. Differences in lingual fiber orientation were manifested by graduated changes in fiber direction throughout the tissue, without clear anatomical demarcations between regions of the tissue. The anterior tissue was composed generally of orthogonally oriented fibers surrounded by an axially oriented ring of tissue, whereas the posterior portion of the tissue was composed mostly of fibers projecting in the superior and posterior directions. The bulk of the tissue displayed a highly homogeneous, vertically oriented set of fibers, including the anteroinferior region of the tissue and extending nearly to the superior surface. Further analysis of the tissue in terms of diffusion anisotropy demonstrated that the tissue could be represented by varying degrees of anisotropy, with a tendency toward high anisotropy in the dorsal and anteroventral periphery and low anisotropy in the central region of the tissue. These findings demonstrate that the muscular anatomy of the tongue can be displayed as a continuous array of structural units, or tensors, representing fibers of varying orientations throughout the tissue.

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