MRI evaluation of cranial bone marrow signal intensity and thickness in chronic anemia

Eur J Radiol. 2005 Jan;53(1):125-30. doi: 10.1016/j.ejrad.2004.04.008.


Background and purpose: The aim is to assess the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) findings for cranial bone marrow (CBM) signal intensity and thickness in patients with chronic anemia and compared these with findings in healthy subjects. We also investigated the relationships between CBM changes and age, type of anemia (hemolytic versus non-hemolytic), and severity of anemia.

Methods: We quantitatively evaluated CBM signal intensity and thickness on images from 40 patients with chronic anemia (20 with congenital hemolytic anemia (HA) and 20 with acquired anemia) and compared these to findings in 28 healthy subjects. The intensity of CBM relative to scalp, white matter (WM), gray matter (GM), and muscle intensity was also investigated in patients and subjects in the control group. The sensitivity and specificity of CBM hypointense to GM and CBM hypointense to WM as markers of anemia were evaluated. Relationships between age and CBM thickness/intensity, and between anemia severity (hemoglobin (Hb) level) and CBM thickness/intensity were evaluated.

Results: Cranial bone marrow signal intensity was lower in the chronic anemia patients than in the controls (P<0.001). In the control group, CBM intensity was higher than GM intensity, whereas the opposite was true in the patient group. The finding of CBM hypointense to GM was 85% sensitive and 67% specific as a marker of anemia. The corresponding statistics for CBM hypointense to WM were 90 and 46%. The patients had thicker CBM than the controls (temporal, P<0.05; parietal, P<0.005). The subgroup with hemolytic anemia had thicker parietal CBM than the subgroup with non-hemolytic anemia (NHA) (P<0.05) and exhibited thicker temporal and parietal CBM than the controls (temporal, P<0.05; parietal, P<0.001). The CBM thicknesses in the non-hemolytic anemia subgroup were similar to control values (P>0.05 for both). There were no correlations between age and CBM intensity or thickness, or between anemia severity and CBM intensity or thickness.

Conclusion: Patients with chronic anemia exhibit lower CBM signal intensity on MRI than healthy subjects. Patients with hemolytic anemia have thicker CBM than patients with non-hemolytic anemia or healthy individuals. Decreased CBM intensity may indicate that the patient has anemia, and increased CBM thickness may specifically point to hemolytic anemia. These MRI findings may signal the need for further evaluation for the clinician.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Anemia / classification
  • Anemia / pathology*
  • Anemia, Hemolytic, Congenital / classification
  • Anemia, Hemolytic, Congenital / pathology*
  • Anemia, Iron-Deficiency / pathology
  • Anemia, Megaloblastic / pathology
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / pathology
  • Bone Marrow / pathology*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Female
  • Hemoglobins / analysis
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology
  • Parietal Bone / pathology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Scalp / pathology
  • Skull / pathology*
  • Temporal Bone / pathology
  • alpha-Thalassemia / pathology
  • beta-Thalassemia / pathology


  • Hemoglobins