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The role of MR angiography in the pretreatment assessment of intracranial aneurysms: a comparative study.

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: With developments in coil technology, intracranial aneurysms are being treated increasingly by the endovascular route. Endovascular treatment of aneurysms requires an accurate depiction of the aneurysm neck and its relation to parent and branch vessels preoperatively. Our goal was to estimate the clinical efficacy of MR angiography (MRA) in the pretreatment assessment of ruptured and unruptured intracranial aneurysms. We compared MRA source data (axial acquired partitions), multiplanar reconstruction (MPR) of these data, as well as maximum intensity projection (MIP) and 3D-isosurface images with intraarterial digital subtraction angiography (IA-DSA).

METHODS: The study was performed in 29 patients with 42 intracerebral aneurysms. The MRA data were examined in four different forms--as axial source data, MPR images of the source data, and MIP and 3D isosurface--rendered images. A composite standard of reference for each aneurysm was then constructed using this information together with the IA-DSA findings by looking at aneurysm detection rate, aneurysm morphology, neck interpretation, and branch vessel relationship to the aneurysm. All techniques, including conventional IA-DSA, were then scored independently on a five-point scale from 1 (non diagnostic) to 5 (excellent correlation with the standard of reference) for each of the aneurysm components as compared with the composite picture. An overall score for each technique was also obtained.

RESULTS: Of the 42 aneurysms examined, 34 were small (<10 mm), six were large (10-25 mm), and two were giant (>25 mm). Three aneurysms were not detected with MRA. These were smaller than 3 mm and either in an anatomically difficult location (middle cerebral artery bifurcation) or obscured by adjacent hematoma. Two large aneurysms were depicted as undersized by IA-DSA owing to the presence of intramural thrombus shown by MRA axial source data. IA-DSA received the highest scores overall and in three of the four subgroups. Three-dimensional isosurface reconstructions scored higher than did IA-DSA for depiction of the aneurysm neck, although this difference was not significant. The MPR and 3D-isosurface images were comparable to those of IA-DSA in all categories. MPR images were particularly useful for defining branch vessels and the aneurysm neck. MIP images scored poorly in all subgroups (P < .005) compared with IA-DSA findings, except for in aneurysm detection. Source data images were significantly inferior to those of IA-DSA in all categories (P < .005).

CONCLUSION: MRA is currently inferior to IA-DSA in pretreatment assessment of intracranial aneurysms, and can miss small lesions (<3 mm). It can, however, provide complementary information to IA-DSA, particularly in anatomically complex areas or in the presence of intramural thrombus. If MRA is used in aneurysm assessment, a meticulous technique with reference to both axial source data and MPR is mandatory. The axial source data should not be interpreted in isolation. Three-dimensional isosurface images are comparable to those of IA-DSA and are more reliable than are MIP images, which should be interpreted with caution.

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