Diagnostic Value of Magnetic Resonance Neurography in Cervical Radiculopathy: Plexus Patterns and Peripheral Nerve Lesions

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Abstract

Objective

The aim of this study was to assess the imaging appearance and diagnostic value of plexus and peripheral nerve magnetic resonance neurography (MRN) in cervical radiculopathy.

Materials and Methods

This prospective study was approved by our institutional ethics committee and written informed consent was obtained from all participants. A total of 24 patients were included with a diagnosis of cervical radiculopathy based on clinical examination, supporting electrophysiological examinations and spinal imaging consistent with the clinical syndrome. All patients then underwent a high-resolution MRN protocol including the brachial plexus from nerve roots to plexus cords using a 3-dimensional turbo spin echo with variable flip angle short tau inversion recovery and sagittal-oblique T2-weighted spectral adiabatic inversion recovery sequence, and ulnar, median, and radial nerves at the upper arm and elbow in T2-weighted fat saturated sequences. Two readers independently rated plexus elements regarding the presence of lesions at neuroforaminal levels, roots, trunks, and cord segments. Median, ulnar, and radial nerves were likewise rated. Findings were then compared to a referenced standard of cervical radiculopathy that was defined as the combined diagnosis of clinical syndrome including supporting electrophysiological exams and matching positive spinal imaging, and diagnostic performance parameters were calculated. Additional quantitative and qualitative analysis assessed peripheral nerve caliber and normalized T2-signal at arm level in cervical radiculopathy and compared them to 25 inflammatory neuropathy controls.

Results

Cervical radiculopathy resulted in distinct plexus lesion patterns for each level of neuroforaminal stenosis. Overall, brachial plexus MRN in cervical radiculopathy reached a sensitivity of 81%, a specificity of 96%, a positive predictive value of 87%, and overall diagnostic accuracy of 87%. Initial spinal magnetic resonance imaging showed multiple positive findings for clinically unaffected root levels and resulted in a specificity of 69%, a positive predictive value of 54%, and an overall diagnostic accuracy of 78%.

Results

T2-weighted peripheral nerve lesions were detected in 79% of cervical radiculopathy cases and imitated imaging appearance of inflammatory neuropathies both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Conclusions

Complementing spine imaging in cervical radiculopathy with brachial plexus MRN can improve diagnostic accuracy by increasing specificity and positive predictive value. T2-weighted lesions of peripheral nerves can be caused by cervical radiculopathy, which must be considered a relevant diagnostic pitfall in MRN of peripheral neuropathies.

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