There is increasing recognition of the importance of blood-brain barrier (BBB) disruption in aging, dementia, stroke and multiple sclerosis in addition to more commonly-studied pathologies such as tumors. Dynamic contrast-enhanced MRI (DCE-MRI) is a method for studying BBB disruption in vivo. We review pathologies studied, scanning protocols and data analysis procedures to determine the range of available methods and their suitability to different pathologies. We systematically review the existing literature up to February 2014, seeking studies that assessed BBB integrity using T1-weighted DCE-MRI techniques in animals and humans in normal or abnormal brain tissues. The literature search provided 70 studies that were eligible for inclusion, involving 417 animals and 1564 human subjects in total. The pathologies most studied are intracranial neoplasms and acute ischemic strokes. There are large variations in the type of DCE-MRI sequence, the imaging protocols and the contrast agents used. Moreover, studies use a variety of different methods for data analysis, mainly based on model-free measurements and on the Patlak and Tofts models. Consequently, estimated K (Trans) values varied widely. In conclusion, DCE-MRI is shown to provide valuable information in a large variety of applications, ranging from common applications, such as grading of primary brain tumors, to more recent applications, such as assessment of subtle BBB dysfunction in Alzheimer's disease. Further research is required in order to establish consensus-based recommendations for data acquisition and analysis and, hence, improve inter-study comparability and promote wider use of DCE-MRI.
Keywords: Blood–brain barrier; Dynamic contrast-enhanced MRI; Perfusion; Permeability.