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MR imaging of brain pilocytic astrocytoma: beyond the stereotype of benign astrocytoma.

BACKGROUND: Pilocytic astrocytoma (PA) is the most common pediatric brain glioma and is considered the prototype of benign circumscribed astrocytoma. Despite its low malignancy, the CT and MRI features of brain PA may resemble those of much more aggressive brain tumors. Misdiagnosis of PA is particularly easy when it demonstrates MR morphological and non-morphological findings that are inconsistent with its non-aggressive nature and that overlap with the features of more aggressive brain tumors.

METHOD: Basing on the evidence that the variation in the histological, genetic, and metabolic "fingerprint" for brain PA is dependent on tumor location, and the hypothesis that tumor location is related to the broad spectrum of morphological and non-morphological MR imaging findings, the authors discuss the MR imaging appearance of brain PA using a location-based approach to underline the typical and less typical imaging features and the main differential diagnosis of brain PA. A brief summary of the main pathological and clinical features, the natural history, and the treatment of brain PA is also provided.

RESULT: A combination of morphological and non-morphological MR imaging features and a site-based approach to differential diagnosis are required for a pre-operative diagnosis. The new "cutting-edge" MR imaging sequences have the potential to impact the ease and confidence of pediatric brain tumor interpretation and offer a more efficient diagnostic work-up.

CONCLUSIONS: Although the typical imaging features of brain pilocytic astrocytoma make radiological diagnosis relatively easy, an atypical and more aggressive appearance can lead to misdiagnosis. Knowing the broad spectrum of imaging characteristics on conventional and advanced MR imaging is important for accurate pre-operative radiological diagnosis and correctly interpreting changes during follow-up.

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