Objective: Perfusion CT has been successfully used as a functional imaging technique for the differential diagnosis of patients with hyperacute stroke. We investigated to what extent this technique can also be used for the quantitative assessment of cerebral ischemia.
Methods and material: We studied linearity, spatial resolution and noise behaviour of cerebral blood flow (CBF) determination with computer simulations and phantom measurements. Statistical ROI based analysis of CBF images of a subset of 38 patients from a controlled clinical stroke study with currently more than 75 patients was done to check the power of relative cerebral blood flow (rCBF) values to predict definite infarction and ischemic penumbra. Classification was performed using follow-up CT and MR data.
Results: Absolute CBF values were systematically underestimated, the degree depended on the cardiac output of the patients. Phantom measurements and simulations indicated very good linearity allowing reliable calculation of rCBF values. Infarct and penumbra areas in 19 patients receiving standard heparin therapy had mean rCBF values of 0.19 and 0.62, respectively. The corresponding values for 19 patients receiving local intraarterial fibrinolysis were 0.18 and 0.57. The difference between infarct and penumbra values was highly significant (P < 0.0001) in both groups. No penumbra area was found with an rCBF value of less than 0.20. While in the heparin group only 25% of all areas with an rCBF between 0.20 and 0.35 survived, in the fibrinolytic group 61% of these areas could be saved (P < 0.05).
Conclusion: Perfusion CT is a fast and practical technique for routine clinical application. It provides substantial and important additional information for the selection of the optimal treatment strategy for patients with hyperacute stroke. Relative values of cerebral blood flow discriminate very well between areas of reversible and irreversible ischemia; an rCBF value of 0.20 appears to be a definite lower limit for brain tissue to survive an ischemic injury.