Background: Previous studies of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) as a diagnostic tool for central nervous system (CNS) syndromes in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) contained several limitations such as study design, number of enrolled patients, and definition of CNS syndromes. We overcame these problems and statistically evaluated the diagnostic values of abnormal MRI signals and their chronological changes in CNS syndromes of SLE.
Methods: We prospectively studied 191 patients with SLE, comparing those with (n = 57) and without (n = 134) CNS syndrome. CNS syndromes were characterized using the American College of Rheumatology case definitions.
Results: Any abnormal MRI signals were more frequently observed in subjects in the CNS group (n = 25) than in the non-CNS group (n = 32) [relative risk (RR), 1.7; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.1-2.7; p = 0.016] and the positive and negative predictive values for the diagnosis of CNS syndrome were 42% and 76%, respectively. Large abnormal MRI signals (ø >or= 10 mm) were seen only in the CNS group (n = 7; RR, 3.7; CI, 2.9-4.7; p = 0.0002), whereas small abnormal MRI signals (ø < 10 mm) were seen in both groups with no statistical difference. Large signals always paralleled clinical outcome (p = 0.029), whereas small signals did not (p = 1.000).
Conclusions: Abnormal MRI signals, which showed statistical associations with CNS syndrome, had insufficient diagnostic values. A large MRI signal was, however, useful as a diagnostic and surrogate marker for CNS syndrome of SLE, although it was less common.