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Imaging of the spinal cord and brain in multiple sclerosis: a comparative study between fast FLAIR and fast spin echo

V L Stevenson, M L Gawne-Cain, G J Barker, A J Thompson, D H Miller
Journal of Neurology 1997, 244 (2): 119-24
Recent reports have suggested that fluid attenuated inversion recovery (FLAIR) is a technique superior to conventional (CSE) or fast spin echo (FSE) T2-weighted sequences in detecting intrinsic lesions both in the brain and spinal cord. We report our experience of an inversion recovery prepared FSE, which we refer to as fast FLAIR, in a comparative study of ten patients with clinically definite multiple sclerosis (MS) who underwent cervical cord and brain imaging with both FSE and fast FLAIR. The results showed that in the cerebral hemispheres fast FLAIR detected more lesions than FSE (P < 0.001). However, FSE detected more lesions than fast FLAIR in the posterior fossa (P = 0.02) and in the cord fast FLAIR was much inferior detecting only 2 of 33 lesions seen on FSE. Estimating the T2 relaxation times of lesions in each of three areas (periventricular, posterior fossa, cervical cord) showed that the T2 value of posterior fossa and cervical cord lesions was significantly lower than that of periventricular lesions, suggesting that the lesion composition is different and consequently their imaging appearances are different. In conclusion, although fast FLAIR improves the detection of MS lesions in the cerebral hemispheres, its substantially lower sensitivity in the posterior fossa and spinal cord is a potentially important limitation to its use as a tool for the diagnosis of MS and for monitoring therapies. Further studies are needed to elucidate the mechanisms underlying the loss of sensitivity.

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