MRI of the lung: state of the art

Diagn Interv Radiol. Jul-Aug 2012;18(4):344-53. doi: 10.4261/1305-3825.DIR.5365-11.0. Epub 2012 Mar 20.


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the lung is technically challenging due to the low proton density and fast signal decay of the lung parenchyma itself. Additional challenges consist of tissue loss, hyperinflation, and hypoxic hypoperfusion, e.g., in emphysema, a so-called "minus-pathology". However, pathological changes resulting in an increase of tissue ("plus-pathology"), such as atelectases, nodules, infiltrates, mucus, or pleural effusion, are easily depicted with high diagnostic accuracy. Although MRI is inferior or at best equal to multi-detector computed tomography (MDCT) for the detection of subtle morphological features, MRI now offers an increasing spectrum of functional imaging techniques such as perfusion assessment and measurement of ventilation and respiratory mechanics that are superior to what is possible with MDCT. Without putting patients at risk with ionizing radiation, repeated examinations allow for the evaluation of the course of lung disease and monitoring of the therapeutic response through quantitative imaging, providing a level of functional detail that cannot be obtained by any other single imaging modality. As such, MRI will likely be used for clinical applications beyond morphological imaging for many lung diseases. In this article, we review the technical aspects and protocol suggestions for chest MRI and discuss the role of MRI in the evaluation of nodules and masses, airway disease, respiratory mechanics, ventilation, perfusion and hemodynamics, and pulmonary vasculature.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia / diagnosis
  • Contrast Media
  • Cystic Fibrosis / diagnosis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted*
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional*
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lung / pathology*
  • Lung Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Lung Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multidetector Computed Tomography / methods
  • Perfusion Imaging / methods
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / diagnosis
  • Respiratory Mechanics
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Young Adult


  • Contrast Media