Somatotopic Fascicular Lesions of the Brachial Plexus Demonstrated by High-Resolution Magnetic Resonance Neurography

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Abstract

Objectives

The aim of this study was to evaluate whether high-resolution brachial plexus (BP) magnetic resonance neurography (MRN) is capable of (1) distinguishing patients with compressive neuropathy or noncompressive plexopathy from age- and sex-matched controls, (2) discriminating between patients with compressive neuropathy and noncompressive plexopathy, and (3) detecting spatial lesion patterns suggesting somatotopic organization of the BP.

Materials and Methods

Thirty-six patients (50.9 ± 12.7 years) with clinical symptoms, nerve conduction studies, and needle electromyography findings suggestive of brachial plexopathy and 36 control subjects matched for age and sex (50.8 ± 12.6 years) underwent high-resolution MRN of the BP. Lesion determination and localization was performed by 2 blinded neuroradiologists at the anatomical levels of the plexus trunks and cords.

Results

By applying defined criteria of structural plexus lesions on high-resolution MRN, all patients were correctly rated as affected, whereas 34 of 36 controls were correctly rated as unaffected by independent and blinded reading from 2 neuroradiologists with overall good to excellent interrater reliability. In all cases, plexopathies with a compressive etiology (n = 12) were correctly distinguished from noncompressive plexopathies with inflammatory origin (n = 24). Pathoanatomical contiguity of lesion from trunk into cord level allowed recognition of distinct somatotopical patterns of fascicular involvement, which correlated closely with the spatial distribution of clinical symptoms and electrophysiological data.

Conclusions

Brachial plexus MRN is highly accurate for differentiating patients with symptomatic plexopathy from healthy controls and for distinguishing patients with compressive neuropathy and noncompressive plexopathy. Furthermore, BP MRN revealed evidence for somatotopic organization of the BP. Therefore, as an addition to functional information of electrodiagnostic studies, anatomical information gained by BP MRN may help to improve the efficiency and accuracy of patient care.

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