Diffusion-weighted imaging evaluation of subtle cerebral microstructural changes in intrauterine fetal hydrocephalus

Gulnur Erdem, Onder Celik, Seyma Hascalik, Hakki Muammer Karakas, Alpay Alkan, Ahmet Kemal Firat
Magnetic Resonance Imaging 2007, 25 (10): 1417-22

OBJECTIVE: Hydrocephalus is an important etiological factor in neurological decline. With the advent of fetal ultrasound, fetal hydrocephalus is now more frequently detected than in the past. Ultrasonography (USG) provides information on general morphology, but microstructural changes that may play a prognostic role are beyond the resolution of that technique. These changes may theoretically be revealed by diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (DW-MRI). In this study, our preliminary findings of DW-MRI on the hydrocephalic fetuses are presented.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: Twelve fetuses with fetal USG diagnosis of hydrocephalus were investigated using a 1.5-T MR scanner. In addition to conventional techniques, DWI was performed. It was obtained using a single-shot echo-planar imaging sequence (TR/TE: 4393/81 ms; slice thickness: 5 mm; interslice gap: 1 mm; FOV: 230 mm; matrix size: 128x256; b values: 0 and 1000 s/mm2). Apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) values were measured in the white matter of the periventricular frontal and occipital lobes, basal ganglia, thalamus, centrum semiovale and cerebrospinal fluid in the lateral ventricle. These values were compared with the normal prenatal ADC values from a radiological study published in the literature.

RESULTS: All fetuses had moderate or severe bilateral supratentorial ventricular dilatation that was compatible with hydrocephalus. On conventional T1- and T2-weighted imaging, cerebral parenchyma had normal signal pattern and ADC values were significantly lower than those reported for fetuses with normal brain. These values were lower in hydrocephalic fetuses with statistical significance (P<.05-.01).

CONCLUSION: DWI is a sensitive technique to investigate cerebral microstructure. The reduction in cerebral blood flow and alterations in cerebral energy metabolism in cases with hydrocephalus have been shown before. Changes in cerebral blood flow and energy metabolism, as a consequence of cerebral compression, may occur in hydrocephalus. Elevated ventricular pressure may cause cerebral ischemia. The anaerobic glycolysis seen in the hydrocephalic brain tissue by increasing the lactate concentration and intracellular fluid flux may be the reason for the reduced ADC values in hydrocephalic fetuses. However, long-term prospective trials on the correlation of ADC values and neurological outcome are necessary to exploit the full benefit of that novel technique.

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