Pattern of white matter abnormalities at MR imaging: use of polymerase chain reaction testing of Guthrie cards to link pattern with congenital cytomegalovirus infection

Radiology. 2004 Feb;230(2):529-36. doi: 10.1148/radiol.2302021459.


Purpose: To define a magnetic resonance (MR) imaging pattern suggestive of congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection by using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing to detect CMV DNA in neonatal blood on Guthrie cards for validation.

Materials and methods: On the basis of findings in eight patients with documented congenital CMV infection, the authors developed MR imaging inclusion criteria, including multifocal lesions predominantly located in the deep parietal white matter. If gyral abnormalities were present, white matter lesions were either multifocal or diffuse. The criteria were applied to 152 patients with static leukoencephalopathy of unknown etiology. Guthrie cards for 22 of the 43 patients fulfilling the MR imaging criteria, 20 patients not fulfilling them, and 300 control subjects were analyzed. Fisher exact testing was used to evaluate the association between MR imaging characteristics and CMV status, and backward elimination linear discriminant analysis was used to identify MR imaging characteristics predictive of CMV infection in addition to the initial criteria.

Results: PCR test results were positive in 12 of 22 patients suspected of having congenital CMV infection, in no patient not suspected of having infection (P <.001), and in two of 300 control subjects (negative predictive value [NPV] of MR imaging criteria, 100% [95% CI: 83%, 100%]; positive predictive value [PPV], 55% [95% CI: 32%, 76%]). The most important additional MR imaging finding predicting a positive PCR result was abnormality of the anterior part of the temporal lobe, including abnormal white matter, cysts, and enlargement of inferior horns. Including this finding in the MR imaging criteria enhanced the PPV (89%; 95% CI: 52%, 99%) at the expense of the NPV (88%; 95% CI: 72%, 97%).

Conclusion: In patients with static encephalopathy, an MR imaging pattern of multifocal lesions predominantly involving deep parietal white matter, with or without gyral abnormalities, is predictive of congenital CMV infection. When gyral abnormalities are present, leukoencephalopathy may also be diffuse. The presence of abnormalities in the anterior part of the temporal lobe increases the likelihood that CMV infection is present.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Brain / pathology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cytomegalovirus / genetics*
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / congenital*
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / diagnosis
  • Cytomegalovirus Infections / virology
  • DNA, Viral / blood*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Encephalitis, Viral / diagnosis
  • Encephalitis, Viral / genetics*
  • Encephalitis, Viral / virology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • DNA, Viral