Introduction: Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM) is usually a monophasic illness characterized by multiple lesions involving gray and white matter. Quantitative MR techniques were used to characterize and stage these lesions.
Methods: Eight patients (seven males and one female; mean age 19 years, range 5 to 36 years) were studied using conventional MRI (T2- and T1-weighted and FLAIR sequences), diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) and proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS). Apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) values and MRS ratios were calculated for the lesion and for normal-appearing white matter (NAWM). Three patients were imaged in the acute stage (within 7 days of the onset of neurological symptoms) and five in the subacute stage (after 7 days from the onset of symptoms).
Results: ADC values in NAWM were in the range 0.7-1.24 x 10(-3) mm/s2 (mean 0.937 +/- 0.17 mm/s2). ADC values of ADEM lesions in the acute stage were in the range 0.37-0.68 x 10(-3) mm/s2 (mean 0.56 +/- 0.16 mm/s2) and 1.01-1.31 x 10(-3) mm/s2 (mean 1.24 +/- 0.13 mm/s2) in the subacute stage. MRS ratios were obtained for all patients. NAA/Cho ratios were in the range 1.1-3.5 (mean 1.93 +/- 0.86) in the NAWM. NAA/Cho ratios within ADEM lesions in the acute stage were in the range 0.63-1.48 (mean 1.18 +/- 0.48) and 0.29-0.84 (mean 0.49 +/- 0.22) in the subacute stage. The ADC values, NAA/Cho and Cho/Cr ratios were significantly different between lesions in the acute and subacute stages (P < 0.001, P < 0.027, P < 0.047, respectively). ADC values were significantly different between lesions in the acute (P < 0.009) and subacute stages (P < 0.005) with NAWM. In addition, NAA/Cho and Cho/Cr ratios were significantly different between lesions in the subacute stage and NAWM (P < 0.006, P < 0.007, respectively).
Conclusion: ADEM lesions were characterized in the acute stage by restricted diffusion and in the subacute stage by free diffusion and a decrease in NAA/Cho ratios. Restricted diffusion and progressive decrease in NAA/Cho ratios may help in staging the disease.