Technology insight: visualizing peripheral nerve injury using MRI

Martin Bendszus, Guido Stoll
Nature Clinical Practice. Neurology 2005, 1 (1): 45-53
Currently, the evaluation of peripheral nerve disorders depends on clinical examination, supplemented by electrophysiological studies. These approaches provide general information on the distribution and classification of nerve lesions-for example, axonal versus demyelinative-but nerve biopsies are still required to obtain morphological and pathophysiological details. In this article, we review recent progress in the imaging of peripheral nerve injury by magnetic resonance (MR) neurography. Axonal nerve injury leads to Wallerian degeneration, resulting in a hyperintense nerve signal on T2-weighted MR images of the distal nerve segment. This signal is lost following successful regeneration. Concomitant denervation-induced signal alterations in muscles can further help us to determine whether nerve trunks or roots are affected. These signal changes are caused by various combinations of nonspecific tissue alterations, however, and are not related to particular pathoanatomical findings, such as inflammation, demyelination or axonal injury. New experimental MR contrast agents, such as gadofluorine M and superparamagnetic iron oxide particles, allow visualization of the dynamics of peripheral nerve injury and repair. Further clinical development of these MR contrast agents should allow these functional aspects of nerve injury and repair to be assessed in humans, thereby aiding the differential diagnosis of peripheral nerve disorders.

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