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Imaging of Spondylodiscitis

Meera Raghavan, Elena Lazzeri, Christopher J Palestro
Seminars in Nuclear Medicine 2018, 48 (2): 131-147
Spondylodiscitis is an infection of the vertebral body or disc and may also involve the epidural space, posterior elements, and paraspinal soft tissues. It is a cause of morbidity and mortality, and warrants early diagnosis and prompt treatment. Diagnosis can be difficult because of nonspecific signs and symptoms. Magnetic resonance imaging is sensitive and specific and is the imaging modality of choice for spondylodiscitis. Gadolinium contrast can show the extent of soft tissue and bone phlegmon and abscess. The test is less useful for evaluating treatment response. When magnetic resonance imaging cannot be performed or is not diagnostic, radionuclide imaging is a useful alternative. Although bone scintigraphy frequently is used as a screening test, false-negative results can occur, especially in the elderly. This test is not useful for detecting soft tissue infections that accompany or mimic spondylodiscitis. Gallium-67 citrate improves the specificity of the bone scan, can detect infection earlier than the bone scan, may be more sensitive, especially in elderly patients, and identifies accompanying soft tissue infection. Performing SPECT and SPECT/CT improves accuracy. The 2- to 3-day delay between radiopharmaceutical administration and the relatively poor image quality are significant disadvantages of gallium-67. Indium-111 biotin, alone or in combination with streptavidin, accurately diagnoses spondylodiscitis; unfortunately, this agent is not widely available. Currently, 18 F-FDG imaging is the radionuclide test of choice for spondylodiscitis. The procedure, which is completed in a single session, is sensitive, has a high negative predictive value, and reliably differentiates degenerative from infectious vertebral body end plate abnormalities. In comparative investigations, 18 F-FDG has outperformed bone and gallium-67 imaging. Preliminary data suggest that 18 F-FDG may be able to provide an objective means to measure response to treatment. Gallium-68 citrate and 99mTc-radiolabeled antimicrobial peptides have been investigated, but their role in spondylodiscitis has yet to be established.

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