Peripheral nerve sheath tumors (PNSTs) are uncommon but bear a significant risk of malignancy. High-resolution MRI is the standard technique for characterizing PNSTs. However, planning the appropriate extent of resection and subsequent reconstructive strategies is highly dependent on the intraoperative findings because preoperative MRI evaluation can be insufficient. Diffusion tensor tractography (DTT) represents a recently developed advanced MRI technique that reveals the microstructure of tissues based on monitoring the random movement of water molecules. DTT has the potential to provide diagnostic insights beyond conventional MRI techniques due to its mapping of specific fibrillar nerve structures. Here, DTT was applied to evaluate PNSTs and to examine the usefulness of this method for the correct delineation of tumor and healthy nerve tissue and the value of this information in the preoperative planning of surgical interventions.
In this prospective study, patients with the clinical symptoms of a PNST were investigated using DTT 3-Tesla MRI scans. Image data processing and tractography were performed using the FACT (fiber assessment by continuous tracking) algorithm and multiple-regions-of-interest approach. The surgical findings were then compared with the results of the DTT MRI scans. Preoperative fascicle visualization and the correlation with the intraoperative findings were graded.
In a 21-month period, 12 patients with PNSTs were investigated (7 female and 5 male patients with a mean age of 46.2 ± 19.2 years). All patients underwent surgical removal of the tumor. Schwannoma was the most common benign histopathological finding (n = 7), whereas 2 malignant lesions were detected. In 10 of 12 patients, good preoperative nerve fascicle visualization was achieved using DTT scans. In 9 of 10 patients with good preoperative fascicle visualization, good intraoperative correlation between the DTT scans and surgical anatomy was found.
DTT properly visualizes the peripheral nerve fascicles and their correct anatomical relation to PNST. DTT represents a promising new method for the preinterventional planning of nerve tumor resection.