In an event where many thousands of people may have been exposed to levels of radiation that are sufficient to cause the acute radiation syndrome, we need technology that can estimate the absorbed dose on an individual basis for triage and meaningful medical decision making. Such dose estimates may be achieved using in vivo electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) tooth biodosimetry, which measures the number of persistent free radicals that are generated in tooth enamel following irradiation. However, the accuracy of dose estimates may be impacted by individual variations in teeth, especially the amount and distribution of enamel in the inhomogeneous sensitive volume of the resonator used to detect the radicals. In order to study the relationship between interpersonal variations in enamel and EPR-based dose estimates, it is desirable to estimate these parameters nondestructively and without adding radiation to the teeth.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is capable of acquiring structural and biochemical information without imparting additional radiation, which may be beneficial for many EPR dosimetry studies. However, the extremely short T2 relaxation time in tooth structures precludes tooth imaging using conventional MRI methods. Therefore, we used zero echo time (ZTE) MRI to image teeth ex vivo to assess enamel volumes and spatial distributions. Using these data in combination with the data on the distribution of the transverse radio frequency magnetic field from electromagnetic simulations, we then can identify possible sources of variations in radiation-induced signals detectable by EPR. Unlike conventional MRI, ZTE applies spatial encoding gradients during the RF excitation pulse, thereby facilitating signal acquisition almost immediately after excitation, minimizing signal loss from short T2 relaxation times. ZTE successfully provided volumetric measures of tooth enamel that may be related to variations that impact EPR dosimetry and facilitate the development of analytical procedures for individual dose estimates.