Role of Fluid-Attenuated Inversion Recovery in the Diagnosis of Meningitis: Comparison with Contrast-Enhanced Magnetic Resonance Imaging

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Objective:Fluid-attenuated inversion recovery (FLAIR) has shown promise in the detection of subarachnoid space disease. The exact role of FLAIR in the diagnosis of meningitis has not been established. The purpose of this study was to evaluate FLAIR in the detection of meningitis in comparison with contrast-enhanced T1-weighted images (T1WI) in a blinded-reader study. We describe hyperintense sulci (HS) on FLAIR sequence in meningitis in relation to cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) protein and effective echo time (TE).Methods:Two observers blinded to clinical information reviewed magnetic resonance (MR) images of patients with the diagnosis of meningitis and those of age-matched controls. The diagnosis was confirmed from chart review and CSF results. FLAIR images were obtained with 2 different TE values of 120 milliseconds and 150 milliseconds. FLAIR changes were correlated with CSF protein concentration and contrast-enhanced T1WI.Results:Twenty-eight MR images of meningitis patients were reviewed. There were 23 abnormal MR images including 16 abnormal FLAIR scans with hyperintense sulci and 23 with leptomeningeal enhancement on contrast-enhanced T1WI. HS on FLAIR correlated with leptomeningeal enhancement on contrast-enhanced T1WI. Four viral and 1 bacterial meningitis had normal MR images (FLAIR and postcontrast TIWI). Two different TE values were used: 120 milliseconds (n = 15) and 150 milliseconds (n = 13). All patients with effective TE of 150 milliseconds. and CSF protein of more than 132 mg/dL had hyperintense sulci whereas patients with effective TE of 120 milliseconds and CSF protein of 257 mg/dL or more had HS.Conclusions:The sensitivity of contrast-enhanced T1WI was higher than FLAIR. HS on FLAIR correlated with contrast enhancement on T1WI. However, the sensitivity of FLAIR depends on CSF protein concentration threshold for (CSF hyperintensity) for a given effective TE. FLAIR cannot replace contrast-enhanced T1WI in diagnosing meningitis.

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