Ulnar neuropathy at the elbow: MR neurography—nerve T2 signal increase and caliber

Philipp Bäumer, Thomas Dombert, Frank Staub, Thorsten Kaestel, Andreas J Bartsch, Sabine Heiland, Martin Bendszus, Mirko Pham
Radiology 2011, 260 (1): 199-206

PURPOSE: To assess nerve T2 signal and caliber as diagnostic signs at magnetic resonance (MR) neurography in ulnar neuropathy at the elbow (UNE).

MATERIALS AND METHODS: This prospective study was approved by the institutional review board, and written informed consent was obtained from all participants. Twenty patients with UNE were graded by using clinical criteria and nerve conduction studies as mild (n = 12) and severe (n = 8) and were compared with 20 healthy control subjects. All subjects underwent ulnar nerve MR neurography (in-plane resolution of 0.4 × 0.4 mm) covering the elbow region, including T2-weighted imaging with fat suppression (turbo inversion-recovery magnitude sequence: repetition time msec/echo time msec/inversion time msec, 6, 120/66/180) and T1-weighted turbo spin-echo imaging (843/16). Nerve T2 signal increase, measured by using T2-weighted contrast-to-noise ratios across the cubital tunnel, and nerve caliber, determined by using T1-weighted pixelwise measurement of cross-sectional nerve area, were evaluated as diagnostic signs. Qualitative assessment by using visual grading was performed additionally.

RESULTS: Diagnostic performance, as determined with area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC), was excellent for nerve T2 signal to discriminate UNE from a normal finding (AUC = 0.94; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.87, 1.00) and was excellent for nerve caliber to discriminate severe from mild UNE (AUC = 0.95; 95% CI: 0.85, 1.00). Qualitative assessment demonstrated sensitivity of 83% and specificity of 85% for MR neurography of UNE.

CONCLUSION: Nerve T2 signal increase seems to be an accurate sign to determine the presence of UNE. Nerve caliber enlargement discriminates severe from mild UNE. UNE may be diagnosed with high accuracy by means of quantitative or qualitative evaluation of these signs.

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