Applications of diffusion-weighted (DW) magnetic resonance (MR) imaging outside the brain have gained increasing importance in recent years. Owing to technical improvements in MR imaging units and faster sequences, the need for noninvasive imaging without contrast medium administration, mainly in patients with renal insufficiency, can be met successfully by applying this technique. DW MR imaging is quantified by the apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC), which provides information on diffusion and perfusion simultaneously. By using a biexponential fitting process of the DW MR imaging data, these two entities can be separated, because this type of fitting process can serve as an estimate of both the perfusion fraction and the true diffusion coefficient. DW MR imaging can be applied for functional evaluation of the kidneys in patients with acute or chronic renal failure. Impairment of renal function is accompanied by a decreased ADC. Acute ureteral obstruction leads to perfusion and diffusion changes in the affected kidney, and renal artery stenosis results in a decreased ADC. In patients with pyelonephritis, diffuse or focal changes in signal intensity are seen on the high-b-value images, with increased signal intensity corresponding to low signal intensity on the ADC map. The feasibility and reproducibility of DW MR imaging in patients with transplanted kidneys have already been demonstrated, and initial results seem to be promising for the assessment of allograft deterioration. Overall, performance of renal DW MR imaging, presuming that measurements are of high quality, will further boost this modality, particularly for early detection of diffuse renal conditions, as well as more accurate characterization of focal renal lesions.
© RSNA, 2011.