Diffusion magnetic resonance imaging: an early surrogate marker of therapeutic efficacy in brain tumors

J Natl Cancer Inst. 2000 Dec 20;92(24):2029-36. doi: 10.1093/jnci/92.24.2029.


Background: A surrogate marker for treatment response that can be observed earlier than comparison of sequential magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, which depends on relatively slow changes in tumor volume, may improve survival of brain tumor patients by providing more time for secondary therapeutic interventions. Previous studies in animals with the use of diffusion MRI revealed rapid changes in tumor water diffusion values after successful therapeutic intervention.

Methods: The present study examined the sensitivity of diffusion MRI measurements in orthotopic rat brain tumors derived from implanted rat 9L glioma cells. The effectiveness of therapy for individual brain cancer patients was evaluated by measuring changes in tumor volume on neuroimaging studies conducted 6--8 weeks after the conclusion of a treatment cycle.

Results: Diffusion MRI could detect water diffusion changes in orthotopic 9L gliomas after doses of 1,3-bis(2-chloroethyl)-1-nitrosourea (BCNU or carmustine) that resulted in as little as 0.2 log cell kill, a measure of tumor cell death. Mean apparent diffusion coefficients in tumors were found to be correlated with and highly sensitive to changes in tumor cellularity (r =.78; two-sided P =.041). The feasibility of serial diffusion MRI in the clinical management of primary brain tumor patients was also demonstrated. Increased diffusion values could be detected in human brain tumors shortly after treatment initiation. The magnitude of the diffusion changes corresponded with clinical outcome.

Conclusions: These results suggest that diffusion MRI will provide an early surrogate marker for quantification of treatment response in patients with brain tumors.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Alkylating / administration & dosage
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Brain Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Brain Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Brain Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Carmustine / administration & dosage
  • Diffusion
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Glioma / drug therapy
  • Glioma / metabolism
  • Glioma / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / methods
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Water / metabolism*


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Alkylating
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Water
  • Carmustine