Diffusion-weighted MR imaging in the preoperative assessment of brain abscesses

Eric C. Leuthardt, Franz J. Wippold, Mark C. Oswood, Keith M. Rich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

111 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Diffusion-weighted MR imaging (DWI) has recently shown promise in differentiating ring-enhancing lesions such as brain abscess and malignant neoplasm. The ability of DWI to strongly suggest brain abscess enables a neurosurgeon to alter stereotactic planning to optimize diagnosis. We report our experience with DWI in 5 patients with lesions on MR imaging and review the literature to assess the usefulness of this technique in the preoperative evaluation of cerebral abscess. METHODS: The MR images of 5 patients presenting with ring-enhancing lesions that ultimately proved to be brain abscesses were retrospectively reviewed. In addition to standard MR sequences, trace DWI and apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) calculations were performed on all patients. Additionally, 15 recently published articles or references in press concerning DWI in cerebral abscesses were reviewed. RESULTS: All lesions were markedly hyperintense on DWI and had diminished ADC. Thirty-eight of 39 previously reported abscesses were hyperintense on DWI with reduced ADC. Of 165 nonpyogenic lesions with DWI findings, 87 were hypointense or isointense, 78 lesions had variable hyperintensities, and few manifested the degree of hyperintensity observed with abscesses. Most of these included chordomas and epidermoids, which are not likely to be confused with abscesses. CONCLUSIONS: Restricted water diffusion, as indicated by hyperintensity on DWI and low ADC, in ring-enhancing lesions assists in differentiating brain abscess from necrotic tumor. This information facilitates stereotactic surgical planning: abscesses should be preferentially centrally aspirated, whereas necrotic brain tumors should have diagnostic tissue biopsied from cavity walls. Although not definitive for brain abscess, restricted water diffusion is an important MR imaging sign and is useful in neurosurgical treatment strategies for ring-enhancing lesions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)395-402
Number of pages8
JournalSurgical Neurology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2002


  • Abscess
  • Diffusion imaging
  • MRI
  • Stereotactic surgery


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