Cytotoxic edema is responsible for raised intracranial pressure in fulminant hepatic failure: in vivo demonstration using diffusion-weighted MRI in human subjects

Metab Brain Dis. 2005 Sep;20(3):181-92. doi: 10.1007/s11011-005-7206-z.


It is not clear whether cerebral edema in fulminant hepatic failure is predominantly vasogenic or cytotoxic, though cytotoxic edema due to astrocyte swelling is more likely. Diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging can differentiate vasogenic from cytotoxic edema. We performed diffusion-weighted imaging in patients with fulminant hepatic failure to clarify the issue by measuring apparent diffusion coefficient, which quantifies movement of water molecule across cell membrane. Seven patients with fulminant hepatic failure underwent conventional and diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging. Apparent diffusion coefficient was measured in four cortical areas and 12 deep white and gray matter regions in both cerebral hemispheres. Thirteen healthy subjects served as controls. The apparent diffusion coefficient values in patients and controls were compared using Wilcoxon signed rank test. Two patients who survived underwent repeat imaging using same protocol. Patients with FHF had significantly lower apparent diffusion coefficient in all cortical and deep white and gray matter regions of interest compared to controls (p < 0.001), suggesting cytotoxic cell swelling. In two survivors with repeat imaging, one showed complete resolution while the changes persisted in the other, suggesting ischemic injury. Cerebral edema in fulminant hepatic failure is predominantly due to cytotoxic edema.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Edema / pathology*
  • Brain Edema / physiopathology
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • Child
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intracranial Pressure*
  • Liver Failure, Acute / pathology*
  • Liver Failure, Acute / physiopathology
  • Male