MR angiography of the spine: update

Magn Reson Imaging Clin N Am. 2003 Nov;11(4):559-84. doi: 10.1016/s1064-9689(03)00072-2.


The role of MRA, as an adjunct to conventional MR imaging of the spine and spinal cord, is evolving. The older MRA methods that have been applied to spinal vascular imaging include 2D and 3D phase contrast techniques and a derivative of 3D time-of-flight techniques with data acquired for about several minutes after gadolinium contrast injection (standard 3D CE MRA). Newer 3D gradient-echo techniques, which allow the acquisition of each volume of data in tens of seconds as a contrast bolus traverses the region of interest (fast 3D CE MRA), offer the possibility of temporally resolving intradural arteries and veins. The appearance of normal and abnormal intradural vessels, primarily veins, on the standard 3D CE MRA method has been described for the thoracolumbar region. Normal intradural arteries have been more difficult to detect, although preliminary results with the fast 3D CE MRA method, are promising. Only by establishing the MRA appearance of normal arteries and veins, can one begin to define "abnormal" with greater confidence (presuming that the variability in the appearance of normal vessels is not so great as to preclude differentiation). In striving for this goal, MRA has already encountered competition from CT angiography. In the characterization of spinal vascular lesions, the value of MRA has been demonstrated most convincingly for dural AVF. This lesion is more accurately localized and more sensitively detected (by neuroradiolologists and others experienced in spine imaging) with combined MR imaging and standard 3D CE MRA than with MR imaging alone. Preliminary results suggest that sensitivity and specificity may be further improved if fast 3D CE MRA is combined with conventional MR imaging. Although less well documented, the value of MRA in characterizing other lesions, such as AVMs and vascular tumors, has been reported in recent publications. In the future, the role of MRA will depend on technical advances, such as parallel acquisition techniques and possibly implantable RF coils, which permit improved detection of, and differentiation between, intradural arteries and veins. With these improvements, MRA may play an expanded role in the characterization of spinal vascular abnormalities, encompassing trauma and degenerative spine disease and vascular malformations and tumors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Contrast Media
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Magnetic Resonance Angiography* / methods
  • Spinal Cord / blood supply*


  • Contrast Media