Object: Brain abscesses and other purulent brain processes represent potentially life-threatening conditions for which immediate correct diagnosis is necessary to administer treatment. Distinguishing between cystic brain tumors and abscesses is often difficult using conventional imaging methods. The authors' goal was to study the ability of diffusion-weighted (DW) magnetic resonance (MR) imaging to differentiate between these two pathologies in patients within the clinical setting.
Methods: Diffusion-weighted MR imaging studies and calculation of the apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) values were completed in a consecutive series of 16 patients harboring surgically verified purulent brain processes. This study group included 11 patients with brain abscess (one patient had an additional subdural hematoma and another also had ventriculitis), two with subdural empyema, two with septic embolic disease, and one patient with ventriculitis. Data from these patients were compared with similar data obtained in 16 patients matched for age and sex, who harbored surgically verified neoplastic cystic brain tumors. In patients with brain abscess, subdural empyema, septic emboli, and ventriculitis, these lesions appeared hyperintense on DW MR images, whereas in patients with tumor, the lesion was visualized as a hypointense area. The ADC values calculated in patients with brain infections (mean 0.68 x 10(3) mm2/sec) were significantly lower than those measured in patients with neoplastic lesions (mean 1.63 x 10(3) mm2/sec; p < 0.05).
Conclusions: Diffusion-weighted MR imaging can be used to identify infectious brain lesions and can help to differentiate between brain abscess and cystic brain tumor, thus making it a strong additional imaging modality in the early diagnosis of central nervous system purulent brain processes.