Magnetic resonance reflects the pathological evolution of Wernicke encephalopathy

J Neuroimaging. 2001 Oct;11(4):406-11. doi: 10.1111/j.1552-6569.2001.tb00070.x.


Background and purpose: Wernicke encephalopathy (WE) is an acute phase of Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. Pathologic findings change between acute and chronic phases. Only a few magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies have been done to date.

Methods: To correlate the MRI findings in acute and chronic stages of WE with the known pathologic information, 15 consecutive patients with WE were examined with MRI: 3 before thiamine treatment, 7 within 24 hours of thiamine treatment, 4 between the second and sixth day after thiamine treatment, and 1 fifty-five days after thiamine treatment. Nine of the patients had follow-up MRI between 2 days and 33 months. T1-weighted, proton, and T2-weighted axial images were obtained with additional 5-mm-thick T1-weighted sagittal and coronal images to better visualize the mammillary bodies.

Results: In the acute WE, MRI showed high signal intensityon T2-weighted images in periaqueduct and medial thalamic regions. In a few patients with alcoholism, vermian and mammillary body atrophies and third ventricular enlargements were noted. In the chronic phase of WE, T2 hyperintensity disappeared but mammillary bodies and cerebellar vermis became atrophic and third ventricular enlargements were evident. High signal intensity on T2-weighted images disappeared as early as 2 days, and atrophic changes appeared as early as 1 week.

Conclusion: MRI is useful for in vivo monitoring and reflects the pathological evolution in acute and chronic phases of WE.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Chronic Disease
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Wernicke Encephalopathy / pathology*