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Background SARS-CoV-2 targets angiotensin-converting enzyme 2-expressing cells in the respiratory tract. There are reports of breathlessness in patients many months after infection. Purpose To determine whether hyperpolarized xenon 129 MRI (XeMRI) imaging could be used to identify the possible cause of breathlessness in patients at 3 months after hospital discharge following COVID-19 infection. Materials and Methods This prospective study was undertaken between August and December of 2020, with patients and healthy control volunteers being enrolled. All patients underwent lung function tests; ventilation and dissolved-phase XeMRI, with the mean red blood cell (RBC) to tissue or plasma (TP) ratio being calculated; and a low-dose chest CT, with scans being scored for the degree of abnormalities after COVID-19. Healthy control volunteers underwent XeMRI. The intraclass correlation coefficient was calculated for volunteer and patient scans to assess repeatability. A Wilcoxon rank sum test and Cohen effect size calculation were performed to assess differences in the RBC/TP ratio between patients and control volunteers. Results Nine patients (mean age, 57 years ± 7 [standard deviation]; six male patients) and five volunteers (mean age, 29 years ± 3; five female volunteers) were enrolled. The mean time from hospital discharge for patients was 169 days (range, 116-254 days). There was a difference in the RBC/TP ratio between patients and control volunteers (0.3 ± 0.1 vs 0.5 ± 0.1, respectively; P = .001; effect size, 1.36). There was significant difference between the RBC and gas phase spectral full width at half maximum between volunteers and patients (median ± range, 567 ± 1 vs 507 ± 81 [P = .002] and 104 ± 2 vs 122 ± 17 [P = .004], respectively). Results were reproducible, with intraclass correlation coefficients of 0.82 and 0.88 being demonstrated for patients and volunteers, respectively. Participants had normal or nearly normal CT scans (mean, seven of 25; range, zero of 25 to 10 of 25). Conclusion Hyperpolarized xenon 129 MRI results showed alveolar capillary diffusion limitation in all nine patients after COVID-19 pneumonia, despite normal or nearly normal results at CT. © RSNA, 2021 See also the editorial by Dietrich in this issue.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





E353 - E360


Adult, Aged, COVID-19, Dyspnea, Female, Follow-Up Studies, Humans, Lung, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Middle Aged, Prospective Studies, SARS-CoV-2, Xenon Isotopes