Introduction: In multiple sclerosis (MS), spinal cord imaging can help in diagnosis and follow-up evaluation. However, spinal cord magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is technically challenging, and image quality, particularly in the axial plane, is typically poor compared to brain MRI. Because gradient-recalled echo (GRE) images might offer improved contrast resolution within the spinal cord at high magnetic field strength, both without and with a magnetization transfer prepulse, we compared them to T2-weighted fast-spin-echo (T2-FSE) images for the detection of MS lesions in the cervical cord at 3T.
Methods: On a clinical 3T MRI scanner, we studied 62 MS cases and 19 healthy volunteers. Axial 3D GRE sequences were performed without and with off-resonance radiofrequency irradiation. To mimic clinical practice, all images were evaluated in conjunction with linked images from a sagittal short tau inversion recovery scan, which is considered the gold standard for lesion detection in MS. Two experienced observers recorded image quality, location and size of focal lesions, atrophy, swelling, and diffuse signal abnormality independently at first and then in consensus.
Results: The number and volume of lesions detected with high confidence was more than three times as high on both GRE sequences compared to T2-FSE (p < 0.0001). Approximately 5 % of GRE scans were affected by artifacts that interfered with image interpretation, not significantly different from T2W-FSE.
Conclusions: Axial 3D GRE sequences are useful for MS lesion detection when compared to 2D T2-FSE sequences in the cervical spinal cord at 3T and should be considered when examining intramedullary spinal cord lesions.