Brain magnetic resonance imaging in multiple-system atrophy and Parkinson disease: a diagnostic algorithm

Arch Neurol. 2002 May;59(5):835-42. doi: 10.1001/archneur.59.5.835.


Background: Brain magnetic resonance (MR) imaging offers the potential for objective criteria in the differential diagnosis of multiple system atrophy with predominant parkinsonism (MSA-P) and Parkinson disease (PD), since it frequently shows characteristic abnormalities in patients with MSA-P and is believed to be normal in patients with PD.

Objective: To determine concordance between clinical and MR imaging-based diagnoses of MSA-P and PD.

Design: Two neuroradiologists identified and rated striatal and infratentorial abnormalities in 39 brain MR images and assigned a diagnosis of PD, MSA-P, or MSA with additional marked cerebellar ataxia (MSA-C).

Setting: Academic medical center.

Patients: Thirty-nine patients with parkinsonism, including 21 with a clinical diagnosis of PD, 14 with MSA-P, and 4 with MSA-C.

Results: All patients with MSA and 14 (67%) of 21 patients with PD had some abnormality on brain MR imaging. Brainstem atrophy was seen in patients with MSA-P and MSA-C. Putaminal atrophy was seen only in MSA-P. Putaminal hypointensity and lateral slitlike hyperintensity were seen in both PD and MSA-P but were always mild in PD. Cerebellar abnormalities, seen in all patients with MSA-C and 11 patients with MSA-P, were also identified in 6 patients with PD, albeit always rated as mild. Nonconcordance between clinical and radiological diagnosis occurred in 2 patients with PD, 5 with MSA-P, and 1 with MSA-C.

Conclusion: Since several features on brain MR imaging are seen only in MSA-P, a simple diagnostic algorithm may improve the MR imaging diagnosis of MSA-P and PD.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Algorithms
  • Brain Stem / pathology
  • Cerebellum / pathology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple System Atrophy / pathology*
  • Parkinson Disease / pathology*
  • Substantia Nigra / pathology