Magnetic resonance neurography for the evaluation of peripheral nerve, brachial plexus, and nerve root disorders

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Treatment of spinal and peripheral nerve lesions relies on localization of the pathology by the use of neurological examination, spinal MR imaging and electromyography (EMG)/nerve conduction studies (NCSs). Magnetic resonance neurography (MRN) is a novel imaging technique recently developed for direct imaging of spinal and peripheral nerves. In this study, the authors analyzed the role of MRN in the evaluation of spinal and peripheral nerve lesions.


Imaging studies, medical records, and EMG/NCS results were analyzed retrospectively in a consecutive series of 191 patients who underwent MRN for spinal and peripheral nerve disorders at the University of California, San Francisco between March 1999 and February 2005. Ninety-one (47.6%) of these patients also underwent EMG/NCS studies.


In those who underwent both MRN and EMG/NCS, MRN provided the same or additional diagnostic information 32 and 45% of patients, respectively. Magnetic resonance neurograms were obtained at a median of 12 months after the onset of symptoms. The utility of MRN correlated with the interval between the onset of symptoms to MRN. Twelve patients underwent repeated MRN for serial evaluation. The decrease in abnormal signal detected on subsequent MRN correlated with time from onset of symptoms and the time interval between MRN, but not with resolution of symptoms. Twenty-one patients underwent MRN postoperatively to assess persistent, recurrent, or new symptoms; of these 3 (14.3%) required a subsequent surgery.


Magnetic resonance neurography is a valuable adjunct to conventional MR imaging and EMG/NCS in the evaluation and localization of nerve root, brachial plexus, and peripheral nerve lesions. The authors found that MRN is indicated in patients: 1) in whom EMG and traditional MR imaging are inconclusive; 2) who present with brachial plexopathy who have previously received radiation therapy to the brachial plexus region; 3) who present with brachial plexopathy and have systemic tumors; and 4) in patients under consideration for surgery for peripheral nerve lesions or after trauma. Magnetic resonance neurography is limited by the size of the nerve trunk imaged and the timing of the study.

Abbreviations used in this paper: DESS = double echo steady state; EMG = electromyography; MRN = MR neurography; NCS = nerve conduction studies; STIR = short tau inversion recovery.
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Contributor Notes

Address correspondence to: Rose Du, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Neurological Surgery, Brigham and Women's Hospital, 75 Francis Street Boston, Massachussets 02115. email: include this information when citing this paper: published online August 7, 2009; DOI: 10.3171/2009.7.JNS09414.
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