Predicting breakdown of the blood-brain barrier in multiple sclerosis without contrast agents

AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 2012 Sep;33(8):1586-90. doi: 10.3174/ajnr.A2997. Epub 2012 Mar 22.


Background and purpose: Disruption of the BBB in MS is associated with the development of new lesions and clinical relapses and signifies the presence of active inflammation. It is most commonly detected as enhancement on MR imaging performed with contrast agents that are costly and occasionally toxic. We investigated whether the BBB status in white matter lesions may be indirectly ascertained via examination of features on T1- and T2-weighted images obtained before the injection of a contrast agent.

Materials and methods: We considered 93 brain MR imaging studies on 16 patients that included T1-, T2-, and T2-weighted FLAIR images and predicted voxel wise enhancement after intravenous injection of a gadolinium chelate. We then used these voxel-level predictions to determine the presence or absence of abnormal enhancement anywhere in the brain.

Results: On a voxel-by-voxel basis, enhancement can be predicted by using contrast-free measures with an AUC of 0.83 (95% CI, 0.80-0.87). At the whole-brain level, enhancement can be predicted with an AUC of 0.72 (95% CI, 0.62-0.82).

Conclusions: In many cases, breakdown of the BBB in acute MS lesions may be inferred without the need to inject an MR imaging contrast agent. The inference relies on intrinsic properties of tissue damage in acute lesions. Although contrast studies are more accurate, they may sometimes be unnecessary.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / physiology*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Contrast Media
  • False Negative Reactions
  • False Positive Reactions
  • Female
  • Gadolinium DTPA
  • Humans
  • Image Enhancement*
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Statistical
  • Multiple Sclerosis, Relapsing-Remitting / pathology
  • Multiple Sclerosis, Relapsing-Remitting / physiopathology*
  • ROC Curve


  • Contrast Media
  • Gadolinium DTPA