Object. The purposes of this study were to evaluate the serial changes in diffusion anisotropy of the brain, probably reflecting axonal function in brain-dead patients, and thus to explore the possibility of quantitatively estimating the risk of brain death.
Methods. Ten patients suffering from stroke with or without impending brain death and 10 healthy volunteers were studied using three-dimensional anisotropy contrast (3DAC) magnetic resonance (MR) axonography with the aid of a 1.5-tesla MR imaging system. To detect changes in the diffusion anisotropy of neural bundles, the corticospinal tract was evaluated.
Diffusion anisotropy of short axonal fibers decreased immediately after apparent brain death. Whereas the trichromatic coefficients of the corticospinal tract greatly diminished between 6 and 12 hours after apparent brain death, the coefficients of the corpus callosum and the optic radiation decreased in less time, that is, between 1 and 6 hours. The coefficients of these three bundles turned isotropic between 24 and 44 hours after apparent brain death.
Conclusions. Results of 3DAC MR axonography revealed that diffusion anisotropy of neural bundles diminished between 1 and 12 hours after the onset of apparent brain death, probably depending on the length of the bundles, and disappeared between 24 and 44 hours after the onset of brain death, which might reflect dynamic changes of axonal structure and indirectly herald axonal dysfunction. These findings seem to be greatly helpful in establishing an appropriate method to estimate the risk of brain death quantitatively and in forming the basis of future definitions of brain death.