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ORIGINAL RESEARCH article

Front. Phys., 07 October 2022
Sec. Medical Physics and Imaging
Volume 10 - 2022 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fphy.2022.1016932

Magnetic resonance T quantification of human brain at 5.0 T: A pilot study

  • 1Paul C. Lauterbur Research Center for Biomedical Imaging, Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shenzhen, China
  • 2National Innovation Center for Advanced Medical Devices, Shenzhen, China
  • 3Shenzhen College of Advanced Technology, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shenzhen, China
  • 4Chongqing University of Technology, Chongqing, China

MR quantitative T1ρ mapping has gained increasing attention due to its capability to study low-frequency motional processes and chemical exchange in biological tissues. At ultra-high fields, the chemical exchange and proton diffusion in biological tissues should be more prominent. In this study, for the first time, we aim to test the feasibility of brain T mapping at 5.0 T MR scanner and compare the T values estimated using 3.0 T and 5.0 T scanners. Preliminary experimental results show that 5.0 T achieves T-weighted images with a higher signal-to-noise ratio than those acquired at 3.0T. The SNR benefit at 5.0 T is more obvious in high-resolution imaging. The T quantifications at 5.0 T are: Corpus callosum (67.4 ± 1.9 ms), Corona radiate (71.5 ± 1.8 ms), Superior frontal gyrus (67.6 ± 2.5 ms), Putamen (58.9 ± 1.2 ms), Centrum semiovale (84.0 ± 6.3 ms). Statistical analysis results indicate that the T values at 5.0 T show no significant difference with those obtained at 3.0 T (all p > 0.05). The interfield agreements in terms of T values between 3.0 T and 5.0 T were substantial (all ICCs >0.7). The coefficients of variation for T measurements from 3.0 T to 5.0 T were all less than 6.50% (2.28%–6.32%).

Introduction

Magnetic spin-lattice relaxation in the rotation frame (referred to as T) is an emerging technique to assess neurodegenerative diseases [1]. Relative to the conventional T1 and T2 relaxations, T provides a more specific probe of motional interactions related to the exchanges that are on the time scale of the reciprocal of the spin lock field strength. It is sensitive to the local tissue microenvironment and microstructure, such as the pH and glucose levels. Previous studies have demonstrated that proton exchange between bulk water and labile protons of protein or metabolites is an important contributor to the low-frequency T dispersion in biological tissue [25]. Therefore, T has been considered a potential biomarker for the evaluation and early diagnoses of degenerative neurologic diseases, such as multiple sclerosis [68], Alzheimer’s disease [911], Parkinson disease [1214], and stroke [15,16].

T quantification is performed by fitting a series of T-weighted images acquired at varying spin-lock durations (TSL), which can be obtained using most magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) sequences by including a spin-lock preparation pulse at the beginning of the sequence. The T imaging technique is sensitive to the B0 and B1 field inhomogeneities and usually has a high specific absorption rate (SAR) due to the spin-lock pulse. Therefore, most T studies were performed at typically 1.5 T or 3.0 T fields, and human studies of T quantification at ultra-high fields were rarely reported [1719]. At the ultra-high field, chemical exchanges between sites of different chemical shifts increase rapidly with field strength and may significantly contribute to the rotating frame relaxations [20]. T relaxation occurs in response to the chemical exchange between the groups of spins, which depends on chemical shift, temperature, exchange rate of the exchanging spins, etc. [21]. It is hence well suited for probing the metabolic information at higher magnetic field strengths [18,22]. Furthermore, high-resolution T quantification can be achieved using an ultra-high field MR scanner with a high signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) and affords improved morphological detail compared to imaging at lower-field strength [7] in an effort to improve visualization of brain lesions.

Last year, the first 5.0 T ultra-high field whole-body MR system (Jupiter, United Imaging Healthcare, Shanghai, China) was delivered. Compared with the 7.0 T ultra-high field system, the magnetic field strength of 5.0 T system has fewer SAR and field inhomogeneity. These advantages may bring benefits to brain T quantification. We implemented a three-dimensional (3D) T mapping sequence in this system, using a spin-lock T preparation pulse followed by a gradient recalled echo (GRE) readout, and applied it to imaging the brain of healthy volunteers. In this study, we will report the T quantification of the human brain at 5.0 T for the first time. Also, the SNR and spatial resolution gains of brain T images obtained from 5.0 T are demonstrated, and corresponding T values obtained from 5.0 T are compared with those obtained from 3.0 T.

Materials and methods

Subjects

The experiments were approved by the local Institutional Review Board (IRB). Twelve healthy volunteers (10 males, age: 30 ± 5 years; 2 females, age: 28 ± 4 years) were recruited in this study, and informed consent was obtained from each volunteer before the scan. All subjects participated in this study were scanned at a 5.0 T scanner (Jupiter, United Imaging Healthcare, Shanghai, China) and a 3.0 T scanner (uMR 890, United Imaging Healthcare, Shanghai, China). A modified T preparation pulse sequence based on a previously reported sequence was used [17].

Imaging sequence

The imaging sequence is depicted in Figure 1. The pulse sequence starts with a 90-degree RF pulse followed by crusher gradients to reset the net magnetization, which assures the signal is constant at the beginning of T preparation pulse [23]. The following recovery time (Trec) allows the recovery of the magnetization before the T preparation pulse and the acquisition. An adiabatically prepared constant-amplitude on-resonant spin-lock preparation pulse is used for T preparation [17], which is robust to B0 and B1 inhomogeneities. It consists of a rectangular locking pulse sandwiched by an adiabatic half passage (AHP) pulse and a reverse adiabatic half passage (RAHP) pulse[24,25]. The adjusted hyperbolic secant pulses are used as the AHP and RAHP. After the T preparation pulse, the residual transverse magnetization is destroyed by a gradient crusher. Then a 3D segmented radiofrequency gradient echo (GRE) sequence is employed for signal acquisition using the centric phase encoding order [26,27].

FIGURE 1
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FIGURE 1. The timing diagram of the 3D T imaging sequence. The T preparation pulse was accomplished using an adiabatically prepared constant-amplitude on-resonant spin-lock approach to compensate for the B0 and B1 inhomogeneities at 5.0 T.

The 3D T imaging was performed with spin-lock pulse amplitude B1sl = 500 Hz and TSL = 0, 25, 45, and 65 ms at the 5.0 T and 3.0 T scanners. The 5.0 T MR scanner used a local quadrature birdcage transmit and 48-channel receiver head coil [28]. At the 3.0 T MR scanner, a commercial 32-channel receiver head coil (Rx: 32 channel) was used for T imaging. Three datasets were acquired for each subject at each scanner. Two datasets were acquired with a regular resolution of 1 × 1 × 3 mm3 in the sagittal and coronal orientations, respectively. Another was acquired with a high resolution of 0.65 × 0.65 × 2.5 mm3 in the transverse orientation. The imaging parameters are depicted in Table 1.

TABLE 1
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TABLE 1. Imaging parameters for T quantification of the human brain at 5.0 T and 3.0 T

Data analysis

All T quantification and analysis were performed in Matlab R2017b (MathWorks, Natick, MA, United States). The T maps were estimated using the exponential model [29,30] by fitting the T-weighted images with different TSLs pixel-by-pixel:

Mn=M0exp(TSLn/T1ρ)n=1,2,,N(1)

where Mn is the image intensity obtained at varying TSLs, M0 is the baseline image intensity without applying the spin-lock pulse. T map was estimated using the nonlinear least-squares fitting method with the Levenberg–Marquardt algorithm [31] from the T-weighted images.

Five regions of interest (ROIs) were manually drawn on the images of each volunteer by two independent readers (with 5-year experience in neural imaging), including Corpus callosum, Corona radiate, Superior frontal gyrus, Putamen, and Centrum semiovale. The average T value in each ROI was calculated, and the correlation of the T measurements between 3.0 T and 5.0 T was analyzed.

The SNRs of T-weighted images obtained from 5.0 T were also calculated and compared with those obtained from 3.0 T. The SNR was defined as the ratio between the mean value of the imaging regions and the standard deviation (SD) of the background noise [32]. To reduce the subject bias, four ROIs were drawn on each slice to calculate the noise SD and the SNR. Final SNR (denoted as SNRT1ρ-w) was calculated as the average of these four SNRs. Mean values and SDs of SNRT1ρ-w were computed for all the volunteers in each orientation.

Statistical analysis

The difference and consistency of T values measured at 3.0 T and 5.0 T were statistically compared using the Mann-Whitney U test. The intraclass correlation coefficients (ICCs) and Bland–Altman analysis were used to evaluate the interfield agreements and to determine whether there were significant differences in terms of T values between 3.0 T and 5.0 T. The interfield agreement was considered to be poor for ICCs = 0.0–0.2, fair for ICCs = 0.2–0.4, moderate for ICCs = 0.4–0.6, substantial for ICCs = 0.6–0.8, and excellent for ICCs = 0.8–1.0. p < 0.05 was considered statistically significant. The coefficient of variation (CV = stdT1ρ/meanT1ρ) was used to assess the variability and reliability of T values measured at 3.0 T and 5.0 T. CVs <15%, between 15% and 35% and >35% were considered to be small, moderate, and large variability. Statistical analyses were performed using SPSS 25.0 (IBM, Armonk, NY) and MedCalc 20.0.22 (MedCalc Software, Mariakerke, Belgium).

Results

Imaging with regular resolution

Figure 2 shows the representative T-weighted images at TSL = 0 and 65 ms of one subject with the regular resolution at 3.0 T and 5.0 T in the sagittal and coronal orientations, respectively. The noticeable difference between the image contrasts of 3.0 T and 5.0 T might be due to the change of relaxation time with the field strength. In addition, visible noise can be observed in the T-weighted images at 3.0 T, especially at TSL = 65 ms, since the signal attenuates with the increase of TSL. The corresponding T maps of the above T-weighted images are shown in Figure 3. These maps show extensive spatial similarities present between 3.0 T and 5.0 T T values for the same volunteers, except that the T maps at 3.0 T are a little noisier than those at 5.0 T.

FIGURE 2
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FIGURE 2. The T-weighted images with different TSLs collected at 3.0 T and 5.0 T.

FIGURE 3
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FIGURE 3. The T maps obtained at 3.0 T and 5.0 T.

Imaging with high resolution

Figure 4 shows T-weighted images of different TSLs and the corresponding T maps in the high-resolution scenario for an axial slice from two subjects acquired at 3.0 T and 5.0 T. Similar conclusions to the regular scenario can be obtained. Furthermore, the SNRs of T-weighted images obtained at 3.0 T drop significantly due to the increased resolution. As the signal decays exponentially along the TSL direction, some image details are almost drowned out by noise, especially at longer TSLs. Correspondingly, the T maps also seem noisy. However, the T-weighted images obtained at 5.0 T still show good image detail with reasonable SNRs, and the image quality of T maps is also improved.

FIGURE 4
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FIGURE 4. T-maps estimated from datasets collected at 3.0 T and 5.0 T.

T measurements and signal-to-noise ratio analysis

The T values in the tissue compartments of the selected ROIs at 5.0 T and 3.0 T are shown in Table 2. There was no significant difference between the T values obtained at 5.0 T and 3.0 T (all p > 0.05). The ICCs for evaluating the interfield agreements are also shown in Table 2. LCI and UCI are the abbreviations of the lower and upper bounds of the 95% confidence interval. The ICCs of T values in all tissue compartments between 3.0 T and 5.0 T were as follows: ICCCorpus callosum = 0.730 [95% confidence interval (CI): 0.499–0.865]; ICCCorona radiate = 0.725 (95% CI:−0.466–0.869); ICCSuperior frontal gyrus = 0.788 (95% CI: 0.576–0.901); ICCPutamen = 0.788 (95% CI: 0.461–0.882) and ICCCentrum semiovale = 0.768 (95% CI: 0.542–0.890). All ICCs between the 3.0 T and 5.0 T were >0.7, indicating substantial agreements.

TABLE 2
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TABLE 2. Average T values of selected ROIs and the corresponding p-values at 3.0 T and 5.0 T

The SNR of the T-weighted images obtained at 5.0 T and 3.0 T are shown in Table 3. As expected, the image SNR at 5.0 T was higher than that at 3.0 T, and significant differences were seen between the SNRs obtained at 5.0 T and 3.0 T, with p < 0.05 for all imaging scenarios. On average, with the regular resolution, the SNR of the T-weighted images obtained at 5.0 T was 15.67% higher than that at 3.0 T, and this value increased to 46.6% in the high-resolution scenario.

TABLE 3
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TABLE 3. The average SNR of the T-weighted images obtained at 3.0 T and 5.0 T

The coefficient of variation between the 3.0 T and 5.0 T T values for five selected ROIs are shown in Table 4. For 3.0 T, the CVs of T values for Corpus callosum, Corona radiate, Superior frontal gyrus, Putamen, Centrum semiovale were 3.42%, 2.70%, 3.14%, 2.58%, respectively, and the CVs of T values from 5.0 T were 2.79%, 2.36%, 3.48%, 2.28%. Based on the above results, the variability of T values at different field strengths for five selected ROIs was determined as small (CV < 15.0%).

TABLE 4
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TABLE 4. The Coefficient of Variation (%) of T values for selected ROIs at 3.0 T and 5.0 T

The Bland-Altman plots of the mean interfield differences of T values (T difference = T1ρ,3.0 T- T1ρ,5.0 T) for the five tissue compartments in the aforementioned ROIs are shown in Figure 5, and the mean interfield differences of T values are as follows: T difference of Corpus callosum: mean ±1.96SD: −3.4–2.5 ms, bias: −0.4361 ms, 95% CI: −1.0214, 0.1493; T difference of Corona radiate: mean ±1.96SD: −2.6–2.7 ms, bias: 0.0616 ms, 95% CI: −0.5006, 0.6238; T difference of Superior frontal gyrus: mean ±1.96SD: −3.3–2.3 ms, bias: −0.4864 ms, 95% CI: −1.0732, 0.1004; T difference of Putamen: mean ±1.96SD: −1.4–2.4 ms, bias: 0.4784 ms, 95% CI: −0.0818, 0.8750; T difference of Centrum semiovale: mean ± SD: −4.7–6.0 ms, bias:0.6504 ms, 95% CI: −0.4798, 1.7806.

FIGURE 5
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FIGURE 5. Bland–Altman plots of T difference values at 5.0 T relative to the T values at 3.0 T in the Corpus callosum, Corona radiate, Superior frontal gyrus, Putamen, and Centrum semiovale. The solid and dashed lines in the Bland-Altman plots represent the bias and ±1.96 × standard deviation, respectively.

Discussion

In this study, we demonstrated the feasibility of brain T quantification at 5.0 T and compared the T values to 3.0 T in healthy volunteers. T mapping at higher field strengths benefits from increased SNR and chemical exchange, resulting in its increased sensitivity to exchange effects, such as changes in macromolecule concentrations. In previous studies, T mapping at 7.0 T has shown great potential in studying the loss of proteoglycan and improving differentiation between knees with cartilage lesions and controls, and it is also promising for glucose metabolism studies in detecting intracerebral regions of increased glucose concentration [18,33]. However, SAR limits should be carefully taken into account since the spin lock pulse requires a large amount of RF energy. Relative to 7.0 T, T mapping at 5.0 T has met less resistance due to lower SAR of spin lock pulse. In addition, the use of the adiabatically prepared spin-lock preparation pulse can compensate for the B0 and B1 inhomogeneities at 5.0 T, which are also lower than those at 7.0 T. Thus, we can obtain reliable T maps of the brain. To our knowledge, this is the first depiction of brain T mapping at 5.0 T.

High-resolution anatomical images are desirable for better clinical diagnostic details and clearer visualization of morphological abnormalities. Additionally, it hold great potential for investigation and characterization of various pathological processes. For example, demyelination and axonal loss across various brain regions are prevalent at very early stages of multiple sclerosis [7]. These high-resolution images can improve gray matter and white matter differentiation, in an effort to classify the location of lesions in relation to the cortical/subcortical boundary [34]. While in the case of lower resolution, effects of partial of skull with this free fluid would be increased and could confound interpretation of results.

Our experimental results showed that the image SNRs of T-weighted images were significantly improved at 5.0 T, and the improvement became more obvious in the high-resolution scenario. This result was in good concordance with previous studies [3436]. Since SNR is linearly proportional to the magnetic field strength, ultra-high field MRI affords higher spatial resolution, allowing for the visualization of small anatomic structures not previously appreciated at lower magnetic field strengths. As shown in Table 2, the T values of the brain obtained at 5.0 T are not significantly different from those obtained at 3.0 T. This indicates that the T values obtained at 5.0 T can be utilized for brain investigation, which is valuable for longitudinal investigation and comparison. Although increasing the number of averages will increase the SNR, it also enables exponential increase in the scan time. However, it may be also hard to use a different number of averages to make the scanning time of 3.0 T equal to 5.0 T. We calculated the SNR per unit of time for images at 5.0 T and 3.0 T respectively by dividing the SNR by the square root of the scanning time. Since the TE of imaging at 5.0 T is different from that at 3.0 T in the regular resolution scenario, due to different duration, gradient ramp and gradient amplitude of the readout gradient, we calculated the SNR per unit of time for images in the high resolution scenario for fair comparison. According to the SNR results in Table 3, the SNR per unit of time for images collected at 5.0 T is also higher than that at 3.0 T, with the value of 8.01 (s−1) at 5.0 T, and 7.05 (s−1) at 3.0 T, respectively.

In this study, since the imaging sequence contains the long-duration T-preparation pulse, the energy deposited into tissues needs to be addressed, especially for the ultra-high field MR systems. According to previous studies [3739], the SAR for a single pulse used in the sequence can be estimated as:

SARτ/α=f(3msτ)2(α/90°)2SAR3ms/90°(2)

where τ is the duration (in ms), α is the flip angle, f is a pulse shape factor determined by the type of pulse used, which equals 1 for a hard pulse, or equals 0.67 for a Gaussian pulse, or equals 2 for a sinc pulse. SAR3ms/90° denotes the SAR for a 90°hard pulse with a duration of 3 ms. SAR3ms/90°at 3.0 T for the head model was estimated between 0.242 W/kg (1.5 T) and 2.16 W/kg (4.1 T), and SAR3ms/90°at 5.0T for the head model was slightly larger than 3.3 W/kg (4.7 T). The average SAR delivered for the pulse sequence is the sum of energy absorbed by each RF pulse divided by the total time to acquire the image:

SAR=n=1NSARτn/αn×τnTtotal(3)

where SARτ/α is calculated using Eq. 2, SAR denotes the average delivered SAR over the total time period Ttotal, N denotes the number of RF pulses. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandated maximum SAR level that equals 3W/kg of the head during the extremities averaged over 10 min. In this study, the average SAR delivered to the brain with TSL = 65 ms approximately 2.68 W/kg at 5.0T and between 0.22 W/kg and 1.98 W/kg at 3.0 T.

In this study, TSL times were chosen empirically based on hardware limitations. The allowed maximum RF duration depends on the RF hardware of the system. In previous studies [6,3941], the T-weighted images were produced by using an RF pulse cluster (e.g. 90°+x–SL+y –180°+y–SL-y –90°+x), it is easy to set the TSL to 100 ms due to using the composite SL pulses. In the UIH MR scanner, the deadtime between two pulses is 200us, which is much larger than other commercial MR scanners. The dephasing during the deadtime will affect the image quality of T-weighted images and may result in inaccurate T mapping. To resolve this problem and to compensate for the B0 and B1 inhomogeneity, we used a single pulse to improve the robustness of T imaging. The maximum duration allowed of a single pulse is around 80 ms, both on the 3.0 T and 5.0T UIH MR scanners. Got rid of the time for AHP and RAHP, the maximum TSL used was 65 ms in our study. In our future work, optimized T preparation pulses with longer TSL and insensitive to B0 and B1 field inhomogeneity will be studied.

Although several studies of knee cartilage showed that 7.0 T T values were slightly lower than 3.0 T T values [33,42], the dependence between the T value and the B0 field strength is not very clear for brain tissues. As is shown in Table 5, we listed the T values of white matter and gray matter at different field strengths reported in previous studies. The T values of white matter and gray matter at 3.0 T in our study are consistent with previous studies (T of the white matter: 76.07 ms, T of gray matter: 80.1 ms). And T measurements at 5.0 T showed no significant difference with that at 3.0 T, with the current imaging protocols. Theoretically, the chemical exchange and diffusion contribution to the T increases with the magnetic field, the field-dependent trend of the T relaxation times is less pronounced than that of T1 in this study, which is similar to the T2 relaxation times [43].

TABLE 5
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TABLE 5. T values for white matter and gray matter at different magnetic field strengths.

There were several limitations in this study. First, the scan time of T quantification is relatively long due to the requirement of acquiring multiple images with different TSLs. There might be a subject’s motion during acquisition. Fast MRI techniques such as compressed sensing and deep learning can shorten the scan time to a clinically acceptable range but have not yet been integrated into the 5.0 T scanner. Second, the slice thickness is up to 3 mm in this study, which may cause some small lesions to be missed, or inaccurate characterization of lesions due to partial volume effects in clinical applications. Future technical improvement will focus on shortening the scan time for higher-resolution imaging by using the abovementioned fast MRI techniques. Third, all of the subjects were healthy volunteers, and no patient was included in this study. Since the T values of patients may be different from that of healthy volunteers, efforts should be made to further evaluate the T quantification of brain lesions at 5.0 T for patients with neurologic diseases and investigate the ability of T mapping to determine differences between normal and patients.

Conclusion

This study confirmed the feasibility of brain T quantification at 5.0 T. There was no significant difference between the brain T values obtained at 3.0 T and 5.0 T. The SNR of T-weighted images was significantly improved at 5.0 T relative to 3.0 T, which is a benefit for high-resolution imaging and dispersion-related studies. The T quantification at 5.0 T may be reliable for clinical investigations.

Data availability statement

The original contributions presented in the study are included in the article/supplementary material, further inquiries can be directed to the corresponding authors.

Ethics statement

The studies involving human participants were reviewed and approved by the Ethics Committee at the Shenzhen Institute of Advanced Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (Ethics Committee approval number: YSB-2022-Y02088). The patients/participants provided their written informed consent to participate in this study.

Author contributions

YL: conceptualization, methodology, software, writing—original draft. WW: Formal analysis, data curation, visualization, writing—original draft. YZ: investigation, formal analysis, validation. HW: supervision. HZ: supervision. DL: supervision, writing—review and editing, funding acquisition. YZ: writing—review and editing, supervision, project administration, funding acquisition.

Funding

This study is supported by the National Key R&D Program of China no. 2020YFA0712200, National Natural Science Foundation of China under grant no. 62201561, 81971611, 62125111, 81901736, and U1805261, the Guangdong Basic and Applied Basic Research Foundation under grant no. 2021A1515110540, the Key Technology and Equipment R&D Program of Major Science and Technology Infrastructure of Shenzhen under grant no. 202100102, 202100104, Shenzhen Science and Technology Program under grant no. RCYX20210609104444089.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher’s note

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Keywords: 5.0 T, brain, ultra-high field strength, quantitative imaging, T

Citation: Liu Y, Wang W, Zheng Y, Wang H, Zheng H, Liang D and Zhu Y (2022) Magnetic resonance T quantification of human brain at 5.0 T: A pilot study. Front. Phys. 10:1016932. doi: 10.3389/fphy.2022.1016932

Received: 11 August 2022; Accepted: 23 September 2022;
Published: 07 October 2022.

Edited by:

Wolfgang Bogner, Medical University of Vienna, Austria

Reviewed by:

Trevor Andrews, Washington University in St. Louis, United States
Tao Jin, University of Pittsburgh, United States

Copyright © 2022 Liu, Wang, Zheng, Wang, Zheng, Liang and Zhu. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Dong Liang, dong.liang@siat.ac.cn; Yanjie Zhu, yj.zhu@siat.ac.cn

These authors have contributed equally to this work

ORCID: Hairong Zheng, orcid.org/org/0000-0002-8558-5102

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