Purpose: To prospectively assess the oxygenation state of renal transplants and determine the feasibility of using blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) magnetic resonance (MR) imaging to differentiate between acute tubular necrosis (ATN), acute rejection, and normal function.
Materials and methods: This HIPAA-compliant study had institutional human subjects review committee approval, and written informed consent was obtained from all patients. BOLD MR imaging was performed in 20 patients (age range, 21-70 years) who had recently received renal transplants. Six patients had clinically normal functioning transplants, eight had biopsy-proved rejection, and six had biopsy-proved ATN. R2* (1/sec) measurements were obtained in the medulla and cortex of transplanted kidneys. R2* is a measure of the rate of signal loss in a specific region and is related to the amount of deoxyhemoglobin present. Statistical analysis was performed by using a two-sample t test. Threshold R2* values were identified to discriminate between transplanted kidneys with ATN, those with acute rejection, and those with normal function.
Results: R2* values for the medulla were significantly lower in the acute rejection group (R2* = 15.8/sec +/- 1.5) than in normally functioning transplants (R2* = 23.9/sec +/- 3.2) and transplants with ATN (R2* = 21.3/sec +/- 1.9). The differences between the acute rejection and normal function groups (P = .001), as well as between the acute rejection and ATN groups (P < .001), were significant. Acute rejection could be differentiated from normal function and ATN in all cases by using a threshold R2* value of 18/sec. R2* values for the cortex were higher in ATN (R2* = 14.2/sec +/- 1.4) than for normally functioning transplants (R2* = 12.7/sec +/- 1.6) and transplants with rejection (R2* = 12.4/sec +/- 1.2). The difference in R2* values in the cortex between ATN and rejection was statistically significant (P = .034), although there was no threshold value that enabled differentiation of all cases of ATN from cases of normal function or acute rejection.
Conclusion: R2* measurements in the medullary regions of transplanted kidneys with acute rejection were significantly lower than those in normally functioning transplants or transplants with ATN. These results suggest that marked changes in intrarenal oxygenation occur during acute transplant rejection.