Magnetic resonance imaging of the peripheral nervous system

J Neurol. 2009 Jul;256(7):1043-51. doi: 10.1007/s00415-009-5064-z. Epub 2009 Mar 1.


The diagnostic work up of patients with peripheral neuropathy largely depends on clinical and electrophysiological investigations. In contrast to disorders of the CNS, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has not been widely used as a diagnostic tool in the PNS except for detection of nerve compressing mass lesions. Normal nerves appear isointense to the surrounding tissue on T1- and T2-weighted (w) MRIs, but upon injury the nerves become hyperintense and thus visible on T2-w MRI. These signal alterations can be exploited to diagnose nerve damage in vivo and to follow regeneration. In patients with peripheral nerve disorders, MRI has been especially useful in detecting focal intrinsic and extrinsic nerve lesions and may reveal treatable conditions even in the absence of gross electrophysiological alterations. This clinical review provides practical guidelines on the performance of nerve imaging by MRI and will focus on focal lesions exemplified by case presentations.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Myelin Sheath / pathology
  • Neuritis / pathology
  • Neuritis / physiopathology
  • Peripheral Nerves / pathology*
  • Peripheral Nerves / physiopathology
  • Peripheral Nervous System / pathology*
  • Peripheral Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / pathology*
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology
  • Predictive Value of Tests