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A simplified framework to optimize MRI contrast preparation

Purpose This article proposes a rigorous optimal control framework for the design of preparation schemes that optimize MRI contrast based on relaxation time differences. Methods Compared to previous optimal contrast preparation schemes, a drastic reduction of the optimization parameter number is performed. The preparation scheme is defined as a combination of several block pulses whose flip angles, phase terms and inter‐pulse delays are optimized to control the magnetization evolution. Results The proposed approach reduces the computation time of urn:x-wiley:07403194:media:mrm27417:mrm27417-math-0001‐robust preparation schemes to around a minute (whereas several hours were required with previous schemes), with negligible performance loss. The chosen parameterization allows to formulate the total preparation duration as a constraint, which improves the overall compromise between contrast performance and preparation time. Simulation, in vitro and in vivo results validate this improvement, illustrate the straightforward applicability of the proposed approach, and point out its flexibility in terms of achievable contrasts. Major improvement is especially achieved for short‐T2 enhancement, as shown by the acquisition of a non‐trivial contrast on a rat brain, where a short‐T2 white matter structure (corpus callosum) is enhanced compared to surrounding gray matter tissues (hippocampus and neocortex). Conclusions This approach proposes key advances for the design of optimal contrast preparation sequences, that emphasize their ability to generate non‐standard contrasts, their potential benefit in a clinical context, and their straightforward applicability on any MR system.