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A Transmit-Only/Receive-Only (TORO) RF System for

High-Field MRI/MRS Applications
Enzo A. Barberi,
Joseph S. Gati,
Brian K. Rutt,
and Ravi S. Menon
The design and operation of a detunable shielded hybrid birdcage
RF head coil optimized for human brain imaging at 170 MHz is
presented. A high duty-cycle and rapid-switching decoupling
scheme that allows uniform RF transmission with the head coil
and reception with a surface coil within the volume of the head coil
is also demonstrated. In addition, the circumscribing hybrid coil
can be biased to operate as a conventional transmit/receive head-
coil. Our RF design allows the use of higher sensitivity surface
coils or phased-array coils at very high magnetic fields where
body RF resonators are not currently available or whose use is
precluded by specific-absorption ratio restrictions. The design
also allows the use of receive-only coils within head gradient
inserts, which normally do not allowtransmission with an RF body
resonator at any field strength. Magn Reson Med 43:284–289,
2000. © 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
Surface coils offer considerable gains in signal-to-noise
ratio (SNR) of a targeted volume in both spectroscopy and
imaging experiments, but fall short in their ability to pro-
duce a uniform RF field when used in a transmit mode.
Clinical systems use transmit body RF coils actively de-
coupled from receiver coils to circumvent the RF homo-
geneity issue and exploit the SNR benefits of surface coil
technology. The use of very-high-field scanners (Ͼ3 T) is
also in large part driven by SNR issues, yet MRI/MRS
techniques requiring the use of receive-only surface and
phased-array coils have generally been unavailable at very
high fields because of a lack of high-field transmit-only RF
volume and body coils. Furthermore, many 3 T or higher
systems, as well as many 1.5 T echo-planar imaging (EPI)
retrofits, use a head gradient insert, making undistorted RF
transmission with a body resonator impossible. Adiabatic
pulses (1) in conjunction with transmit-receive surface
coils offer a viable solution in some cases, but these are
limited in applicability and pose certain specific-absorp-
tion ratio (SAR) and pulse sequence restrictions. Here, we
present the design and performance of a prototype high-
field transmit-only/receive-only (TORO) RF system, com-
prised of: a 28-cm diameter, 21-cm long transmit-only
hybrid birdcage head coil; a single turn 8-cm diameter
receive-only surface coil; and a custom fiberoptic gated
transmit/receive (T/R) driver. This system permits the use
of all pulse sequences with no modifications and no addi-
tional SAR restrictions, and was developed for our 4 T
Varian/Siemens Unity Inova whole-body MRI/MRS sys-
tem (Palo Alto, CA, USA/Erlangen, Germany). Our TORO
system permits the use of receive-only surface coils and
phased-array coils, previously unavailable on very-high-
field systems, and allows one to exploit their true poten-
tial. The transmit-only coil described here is a modified
form of the hybrid birdcage coil, which we have specifi-
cally developed for head imaging and spectroscopy use at
3 T and 4 T (2) and have found to perform extremely well
as a transmit-receive volume coil at these field strengths.
One advantage of the hybrid design is its simplicity of
construction in comparison to other more complex struc-
tures (3,4). In this paper, we show specific coil modifica-
tions that allow excellent decoupling of this hybrid bird-
cage design from receive-only surface coils.
The hybrid birdcage is a single-tuned shielded birdcage
resonator, which results from the combination of low pass
and high pass lumped element capacitors, shown in Fig. 1
(2,5,6). This combination reduces continuous conductive
element lengths to less than ␭/20. A 5-␮m copper foil RF
shield is also used because it reduces radiative losses and
minimizes RF coil interaction with the system gradient
coil shield. The 5-␮m copper shield, with a calculated skin
depth of 5 ␮m at 170 MHz, was found experimentally to
reduce gradient eddy current artefacts encountered when
using standard one ounce copper foil shield or copper
mesh. RF shielding properties were identical regardless of
whether the shield was 1 ounce copper, mesh, or 5-␮m
Unlike similar structures that utilize lumped elements
in both the rings and legs such as the double-tuned band-
pass or band-stop birdcage (7) in which distributed and
additional lumped element inductance’s are used, the hy-
brid design is single tuned using only the distributed in-
ductance of the birdcage. The mode 1 (homogeneous
mode) frequency was determined using a field probe and
the spectrum analyzer. Higher frequency (higher order)
modes of the completed coil were Ͼ5 MHz upfield, about
1,000 times greater than the bandwidth of a typical RF
excitation pulse. This in combination with the high-coil Q
ensures that secondary modes are not excited. To achieve
a single mode 1 resonance, the resonator is first tuned as a
shielded high-pass birdcage to a mode 1 frequency approx-
imately 30% lower than the final design frequency. This
frequency has been empirically determined after con-
structing various 8- and 16-element hybrid birdcages of
differing lengths and diameters. For the range of diame-
ters, lengths,and optimal shield spacings that are common
for human head coils, this empirical recipe has been found
to be accurate for the frequency range covering 40–170
MHz. The high-pass capacitors are replaced with tempo-
Imaging Research Laboratories, John P. Robarts Research Institute, Lon-
don, Ontario, Canada.
Department of Diagnostic Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, University of
Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada.
*Correspondence to: Dr. Ravi S. Menon, Laboratory for Functional Magnetic
Resonance Research, The John P. Robarts Research Institute, P.O. Box
5015, 100 Perth Drive, London, Ontario, Canada N6A 5K8. E-mail:
Received 16 June 1999; revised 13 October 1999; accepted 14 October 1999.
Magnetic Resonance in Medicine 43:284–289 (2000)
© 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc. 284
rary short circuit elements and the coil is then tuned
(mode 1) to the same 30% lower frequency as a shielded
low-pass birdcage. The short circuit elements are removed
and the high-pass capacitors are reinserted. The mode 1
resonance frequency then shifts up to the final design
frequency and fine tuning can be performed with trimmer
capacitors or additional distributed capacitance in the legs
or rings. This tuning technique, in addition to the lack of
lumped element inductors mentioned above, distin-
guishes the hybrid design from the band-pass and band-
stop designs.
Typical capacitance values for a shielded, hybrid bird-
cage coil, 279 mm in diameter, 210 mm in length, with a
381-mm RF shield, and an operating frequency of 170.3
MHz, are 36 pF at each end-ring gap, and 2.2 pF if one leg
gap is used. In the nomenclature of (6) we note that the
ratio of the leg capacitor to the end-ring capacitor is 0.061,
consistent with a low-pass birdcage operating with a non-
zero end-ring mode and slight mode compression. This is
also true of our original prototype hybrid coil (2), which
operated at a ratio of 0.0377. We tend to use more than one
leg gap to distribute the components further, so in this case
4.4 pF is used at each of 2 leg gaps. By comparison,
high-pass and low-pass coils of identical dimensions re-
quire 18 pF and 1 pF (if one leg gap is used) for the same
resonant frequency, respectively. This implies a higher
useful operating frequency limit for the hybrid design
compared to the high-pass, especially for the low-pass,
which reaches it’s limit near 170 MHz for head-size coils
(1 pF approaches the coil’s self-capacitance). We note that
the low-pass coil is not well suited to very-high-field ap-
plications. The continuous conductive end-ring of the
low-pass design with the above dimensions forms a quar-
ter-wave length loop with an approximate radiation resis-
tance of 10 ohms (8), a fairly effective antenna that pro-
duces high near-electric field losses.
Coupling to the Hybrid Birdcage: End-Ring Direct-Coupled
We achieved coupling to the hybrid resonator with a bal-
anced lumped-element quarter-wave variable impedance
transformer, and a fixed quarter-wave lattice balun (9) as
shown in Fig. 2. A real input impedance is only obtained
with the removal of the end-ring capacitors at each of the
two orthogonal coil terminals (the shift in resonant fre-
quency is easily compensated with variable capacitors typ-
ically used to fine tune I and Q channel frequencies). The
first quarter-wave network serves to transform the resona-
tor’s loaded input impedance to the customary 50 ohm
impedance of standard RF coaxial transmission lines. Ad-
justments to accommodate various coil loads can be made
when necessary through the two matched variable capac-
itors shown. However, it has been found for this coil
design that with consistent placement of subjects in the
coil, no tuning adjustments are necessary between differ-
ent subjects. The second network, a lumped-element quar-
ter-wave balun in which all components have a 50 ohm
impedance serves to isolate the differential potentials
present at the end-ring feed point from the coaxial trans-
mission line shield, which is at or near ground potential.
Impedances need only be matched to within a couple of
ohms. This balun eliminates cable placement effects on
quadrature channel isolation and coil impedance. The
balun has no effect on the coupling of the electric field
from the coil to the coaxial cables, therefore good RF
circuit layout techniques still apply. With this two stage
arrangement, the matching and isolation functions are sep-
arated and can be optimized and adjusted independently.
Changes to the matching circuit do not greatly influence I
and Q channel isolation, which is typically 30 dB or better
for a phantom or human subject.
T/R Driver
A T/R driver provides the gated DC bias necessary for
electronically turning coils on and off. We designed a
custom T/R driver, comprised of a fiberoptic gated input
and separate TX and RX bias sections. The gating signal
was derived from the existing Varian/Siemens Unity Inova
fiberoptic gating system. The TX stage applies a 290Vdc
bias (TX coil on) and a -10Vdc bias (TX coil off) on the bias
rails of the transmit-only coil. The RX stage applies a Ϫ10
FIG. 1. Pictorial representation of the shielded hybrid birdcage res-
onator showing multiple lumped element capacitors distributed on
the resonator columns and end-rings. Note that no discrete induc-
tors are used in the rings or legs.
FIG. 2. Two-stage coupling networks used to interface to the hybrid
birdcage resonator. With this design, changes to the balanced
matching network do not affect I and Q channel isolation, and the
differential voltage of the resonator feed points are well isolated
from the coaxial cable shields.
High-Frequency TORO RF System 285
Vdc bias (RX coil off) and a 5 Vdc bias (RX coil on) directly
to the receive-only coil input.
Transmit-Only Hybrid Birdcage Coil
The dimensions of the transmit-only coil were chosen to
match those of our existing T/R receive hybrid birdcage
head coil for purposes of direct comparison. Active decou-
pling of the transmit-only volume coil was achieved
through the use of high voltage PIN diodes (UM4006B,
Microsemi Corp.) distributed across one set of end-ring
capacitors, as shown in Fig. 3a and b. The T/R driver
applies a 290 V reverse bias (TX coil on) and a Ϫ10 V
forward bias (TX coil off) on the bias rails, which are
connected to the anode and cathode of the PIN diodes,
respectively, through 1 ␮H RF choke inductors. The high-
voltage reverse bias ensures that the PIN diodes are not
driven excessively into the forward conduction state and
destroyed by the RF power applied to the transmit-only
coil. Choke inductors are also used on the bias rails to
suppress end-ring coupled current flow, which would oth-
erwise lead to coil detuning when loaded with a subject.
Receive-Only Surface Coil
For the prototype TORO RF system, a simple single 8-cm
loop coil was chosen for the receive-only function. The
distributed series capacitors and single parallel capacitor
were used to match and tune the surface coil to 50 ohms,
and the quarter wave lattice balun was used to isolate the
receive-only coil input terminals from system ground. The
two-stage active PIN diode decoupling of the single loop
receive-only coil is shown in Fig. 4. PIN diode 1 switches
in a parallel tuned inductor across the coil input capacitor,
while PIN diode 2 short circuits the quarter-wave lattice
balun, presenting an open circuit at the coil terminals.
Passive decoupling through the use of a tuned inductor
and a pair of crossed high speed switching diodes
(1N6638U, Microsemi Corp.) was also included as a safety
precaution. It should be stressed that our application de-
mands excellent decoupling between the transmit-only
coil and the receive-only coil, since the surface coil rests
on the 26.7-cm diameter inner bore of the transmit-only
coil, with a coil-to-coil separation of just 3.5 cm. The
decoupling diode configuration shown in our design was
required to meet this stringent decoupling requirement.
The T/R driver switching speed was assessed on the bench
by monitoring the voltage on the bias lines of the transmit-
only and receive-only coils. The limiting switching speed
is found on the transmit-only coil, with 10% to 90% rise
(coil on) and fall (coil off) times of 20 ␮s and 2 ␮s, respec-
tively. The 2 ␮s turn off time was verified on our 4 T
FIG. 4. The receive surface coil decoupling scheme. The active
decoupling is comprised of a two-stage PIN diode switching design.
A parallel inductor is switched across C
and a quarter wave lattice
balun is effectively open circuited across the coil input at C
. Pas-
sive decoupling with crossed high-speed switching diodes and a
detuning inductor, switched in parallel with C
, is used as a pre-
cautionary decoupling mechanism in the unlikely event of a PIN
diode failure.
FIG. 3. Transmit volume coil decoupling. Schematic of end-ring
decoupling circuitry. a: The bias rails apply the appropriate bias,
through the RF chokes (RFC), to the high voltage PIN diode (D)
which switches an inductor (L) in parallel with the end-ring tuning
capacitor (C). Capacitor C
is a DC block and an RF short. With
this configuration, all PIN diodes are in DC parallel, permitting the
application of the full forward and reverse DC bias voltage across all
diodes. b: View of the transmit coil with the RF shield removed,
showing the DC bias rings and RF choke arrangement.
286 Barberi et al.
system by setting the receiver gate time to 2 ␮s and noting
no measurable distortion in the resulting acquired spectra.
The change in coil sensitivity for the transmit-only coil
and the receive-only coil, between on and off states, was
measured at 33 dB and 37 dB, respectively, using magnetic
field probes and our spectrum analyser. Isolation of 33 dB
between the transmit-only and receive-only coils was mea-
sured on the bench by hooking up the transmit coil to the
transmit port of the analyser and the receive coil to the
analyzer’s receive port. Phased-array assemblies should
have the same characteristics. The excellent isolation be-
tween coils is essential in maintaining transmit field uni-
formity. The physical layout is shown in Fig. 5. The Sie-
mens AS-25 gradient set on the scanner includes a slotted
RF shield, which alters the resonant frequency and isola-
tion in large unshielded coils, therefore, to evaluate the
coil in situ, the isolation was also assessed in the bore of
the scanner. Spin echo images (TE ϭ 35 msec, TR ϭ 600
msec) were acquired on a phantom with the transmit-only
coil biased as a transmit-receive coil (Fig. 6). The phantom
was fabricated in house and consists of a 17-cm low di-
electric oil filled sphere placed within a heavily doped
saline solution filled loading cylinder. Phantom fluids
were chosen to minimize the dielectric effect of uniform
water phantoms (10,11). No changes in SNR and unifor-
mity were observed with and without the decoupled re-
ceive-only coil placed directly on the surface of the phan-
tom (Fig. 6) demonstrating the efficiency of our decoupling
scheme. Additionally, a comparison of the transmit-only
coil, biased as a transmit-receive coil, with an identically
dimensioned conventional transmit-receive hybrid bird-
cage revealed identical integral uniformity (15% Ϯ 1%),
SNR (440:1), and power requirements for identical 90°
square pulses (1000 watts for a 200 ␮s square pulse) dem-
onstrating that the addition of bias rings and chokes did
not compromise the head coil’s original sensitivity.
SNR profiles of the TORO system are compared with
those obtained from an 8 cm single turn transmit-receive
FIG. 5. A view of the TORO system coil placement that shows, with
a coil-to-coil separation of 3.5 cm, the obvious need for excellent
coil isolation. Without excellent isolation, transmit field uniformity
would severely degraded. Figure 6 shows the effectiveness of the
FIG. 6. Signal intensity profiles of a 14.5-cm diameter oil phantom in
the (a) x, (b) y, and (c) z directions. Profiles are shown from images
acquired with and without the surface coil in place (biased off) and the
TORO coil biased as a transmit and receive coil. However, the profiles
in these two conditions are indistinguishable, lying completely on top of
one another. The receive-only surface coil is located at the bottom of
the phantom, i.e., right side of the y trace at approximately y ϭ170 mm.
High-Frequency TORO RF System 287
surface coil in Fig. 7. Profiles demonstrate consistent SNR
benefits of the TORO system over the transmit-receive
surface coil over the entire range of coil-to-voxel distances.
Two applications in which TX/RX surface coils cannot be
used are shown to highlight the utility of the TORO sys-
tem. In Fig. 8, we show
H STEAM spectra with identical
acquisitions and no line broadening. The spectrum ac-
quired with the TORO system demonstrated an SNR ad-
vantage of 4.0 compared to the conventional transmit-
receive head coil at this 8-cc voxel in the occipital pole.
The spectra were acquired with 256 averages and a TR of
2 sec (8.5 min), 8-cc voxel size, TE ϭ 20 msec, TM ϭ 30
msec. This means a spectrum of the quality shown in the
top trace, perfectly adequate for our quantification algo-
rithms, could be acquired in less than a minute with the
TORO system and no pulse sequence modifications. FAIR
time courses collected with the TORO system as well as
the standard head coil, using visual stimulation, are
shown in Fig. 9. SNR and CNR for the TORO system are
120:1 and 27:1, compared to 25:1 and 6:1 for the standard
head coil.
Remarkable advances in sensitivity at clinical field
strengths have been achieved through the use of phased-
array coil systems (12,13). These gains, while often con-
fined to volumes accessible to surface coils, are above and
beyond the linear increase in SNR achievable by using
higher fields such as 3 T and 4 T. The lack of equivalent
transmit and receive only technology at higher magnetic
fields has meant these scanners have yet to achieve their
full potential. With the design demonstrated here, transmit
field homogeneity is now possible in combination with the
SNR gains associated with receive-only surface and
phased-array coils. The ability to use 90° and 180° pulses
without resorting to adiabatic pulse designs has tremen-
dous advantages as far as SAR is concerned at very high
magnetic fields and allows seamless use of existing pulse
sequences. Examples of imaging applications that require
high transmit-field homogeneity are fast spin echo and
other variations of the Carr-Purcell-Meiboom-Gill (CPMG)
pulse sequence.
Most spectroscopy techniques, particularly those using
water-suppression, benefit from the use of uniform excita-
tion pulses as well. The ability to perform surface coil
reception after homogeneous excitation results in the ca-
pability to acquire spectra of the quality shown in Fig. 7 in
under 1 min, opening up the possibility of dynamic met-
abolic studies of transient phenomena such as those that
occur during cognitive brain activity. The ability to per-
form dynamic studies with high sensitivity also requires a
T/R driver and pin diodes with high duty cycle capabili-
ties, and careful component choice has allowed us to pulse
at any duty cycle (100%). Duty cycle was tested by con-
tinuously biasing the TORO coil on or off using our T/R
driver with no noted heating or equipment failures. High
duty cycle applications include decoupling and rapid EPI
for functional MRI, in which we might acquire 20 images/
sec for 30 min continuously.
In the near future, the use of RF head coils for transmis-
sion at very high magnetic fields is likely to continue;
particularly as most scanners at 3 T and above are used for
neurological applications. Furthermore, small-diameter
head gradient inserts are popular in this sort of applica-
tion, requiring the use of RF head coils for homogeneous
excitation. This places stringent requirements on isolating
the receive coil from the transmission coil, because they
are likely to be in very close proximity. The excellent
isolation between transmit and receive coils afforded by
FIG. 8. Proton STEAM spectra acquired with the Transmit-Receive
volume coil and the TORO system. The spectra were acquired with
256 averages, TR ϭ 2 sec, 8-cc voxel size, TE ϭ 20 msec, TMϭ 30
msec. An SNR advantage of 4.0 is achieved with the TORO system
at the 8-cc voxel in the occipital pole.
FIG. 7. Normalized intensity profiles of the 14.5-cm sphere phan-
tom, highlighting the SNR advantage of the TORO system over the
transmit-receive surface coil throughout the entire range of coil-to-
voxel distances. The normalization is with respect to the head coil
intensity profile shown in Fig. 6b, from which one can also see that
the surface coil in TORO mode outperforms the head coil over the
first 51 mm into the phantom.
288 Barberi et al.
the decoupling scheme and baluns in our design maintains
transmit field homogeneity in spite of this close proximity
of transmit and receive coils. The use of baluns also elim-
inates cable placement effect on quadrature isolation and
coil impedance on volume and surface coils. This is im-
portant for consistent and reproducible studies and is par-
ticularly challenging at shorter wavelengths. The fast
switching T/R driver enables signal acquisition with the
receive-only coil 2 ␮s after the end of the transmit pulse,
permitting the acquisition of ultra-short TE signals. This
has potential benefit for the imaging of very short T
cies such as
Na and complex flow fields.
The rapidly switching, high duty cycle TORO configura-
tion described in this paper allows all pulse sequences,
particularly those requiring homogeneous excitation, refo-
cusing or inversion pulses to be performed with the higher
sensitivity of a surface coil. No pulse sequence modifica-
tions are necessary and the full patient and RF safety
system operation is preserved. The use of the hybrid coil
design will likely be advantageous for very large volume
coils, such as body coils at 4 T, in which capacitance
values approach the coil self-capacitance for high-pass and
low-pass coils.
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FIG. 9. FAIR time course using visual stimulation—
TORO coil system and T/R head coil. SNR and
CNR for the TORO system are 120:1 and 27:1,
compared to 25:1 and 6:1 for the T/R head coil.
High-Frequency TORO RF System 289