Background and purpose: The purpose of this study was to determine whether diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) and apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) can be used to distinguish brain abscesses from cystic or necrotic brain tumors, which are difficult to distinguish by conventional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques.
Methods: Eleven consecutive patients with brain abscesses [10 pyogenic and 1 toxoplasmosis (in an AIDS patient)] and 15 with cystic or necrotic brain gliomas or metastases were enrolled in this study. None of these lesions had apparent hemorrhage based on T1-weighted image (T1WI). The DWI was performed using a 1.5-T system, single-shot spin-echo echo-planar pulse sequence with b=1000 s/mm(2). The ADC was calculated using a two-point linear regression method at b=0 and b=1000 s/mm(2). The ratio (ADCR) of the lesion ADC to control region ADC was also measured.
Results: Increased signal was seen in all of the pyogenic abscess cavities to variable degrees on DWI. In vivo ADC maps showed restricted diffusion in the abscess cavity in all pyogenic abscesses [0.65+/-0.16 x 10(-3) (mean+/-S.D.) mm(2)/s, mean ADCR=0.63]. The case with multiple toxoplasmosis abscesses showed low signal intensity on DWI and high ADC values (mean 1.9 x 10(-3) mm(2)/s, ADCR=2.24). All cystic or necrotic tumors but one showed low signal intensity on DWI and their cystic or necrotic areas had high ADC values (2.70+/-0.31 x 10(-3) mm(2)/s, mean ADCR=3.42). One fibrillary low-grade astrocytoma had a high DWI signal intensity and a low ADC value in its central cystic area (0.44 x 10(-3) mm(2)/s, ADCR=0.49). Postcontrast T1WIs yielded a sensitivity of 60%, a specificity of 27.27%, a positive predictive value (PPV) of 52.94%, and a negative predictive value (NPV) of 33.33% in the diagnosis of necrotic tumors. DWI yielded a sensitivity of 93.33%, a specificity of 90.91%, a PPV of 93.33%, and a NPV of 90.91%. The area under receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves for postcontrast T1WI was 0.44 and DWI was 0.92. Analysis of these areas under the ROC curves indicates significant difference between postcontrast T1WI and DWI (P<.001).
Conclusion: With some exceptions, DWI is useful in providing a greater degree of confidence in distinguishing brain abscesses from cystic or necrotic brain tumors than conventional MRI and seems to be a valuable diagnostic tool.