Liver Fibrosis Quantification by Magnetic Resonance Imaging

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Liver fibrosis is a hallmark of chronic liver disease characterized by the excessive accumulation of extracellular matrix proteins. Although liver biopsy is the reference standard for diagnosis and staging of liver fibrosis, it has some limitations, including potential pain, sampling variability, and low patient acceptance. Hence, there has been an effort to develop noninvasive imaging techniques for diagnosis, staging, and monitoring of liver fibrosis. Many quantitative techniques have been implemented on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for this indication. The most widely validated technique is magnetic resonance elastography, which aims to measure viscoelastic properties of the liver and relate them to fibrosis stage. Several additional MRI methods have been developed or adapted to liver fibrosis quantification. Diffusion-weighted imaging measures the Brownian motion of water molecules which is restricted by collagen fibers. Texture analysis assesses the changes in the texture of liver parenchyma associated with fibrosis. Perfusion imaging relies on signal intensity and pharmacokinetic models to extract quantitative perfusion parameters. Hepatocellular function, which decreases with increasing fibrosis stage, can be estimated by the uptake of hepatobiliary contrast agents. Strain imaging measures liver deformation in response to physiological motion such as cardiac contraction. T1ρ quantification is an investigational technique, which measures the spin-lattice relaxation time in the rotating frame. This article will review the MRI techniques used in liver fibrosis staging, their advantages and limitations, and diagnostic performance. We will briefly discuss future directions, such as longitudinal monitoring of disease, prediction of portal hypertension, and risk stratification of hepatocellular carcinoma.

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