In this prospective study diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) was used to evaluate the influence of clinical and anatomical parameters on structural alterations within the fifth cranial nerve in patients with trigeminal neuralgia (TN) due to neurovascular compression.
Overall, 81 patients (40 men and 41 women; mean age 60 ± 5 years) with typical TN were included who underwent microsurgical decompression. Preoperative 3.0-T high-resolution MRI and DTI were analyzed in a blinded fashion. The respective fractional anisotropy (FA) and apparent diffusion coefficient values were compared with the clinical, imaging, and intraoperative data. This study was approved by the institutional review board, and written informed consent was obtained from all patients.
DTI analyses revealed significantly lower FA values within the vulnerable zone of the affected trigeminal nerve compared with the contralateral side (p = 0.05). The DTI analyses also included 3 patients without clear evidence of neurovascular conflict on preoperative MRI. No differences were seen between arterial and venous compression. Lower FA values were found 5 months after symptom onset; however, no correlation was found with the duration of symptoms or severity of compression.
DTI analysis allows the quantification of structural alterations, even in those patients without any discernible neurovascular contact on MRI. Moreover, our findings support the hypothesis that both the arteries and veins can cause structural alterations that lead to TN. These aspects can be useful for making treatment decisions.