Magnetic resonance neurography detects diabetic neuropathy early and with Proximal Predominance

Ann Neurol. 2015 Dec;78(6):939-48. doi: 10.1002/ana.24524. Epub 2015 Nov 14.


Objective: The aim of this work was to localize and quantify alterations of nerve microstructure in diabetic polyneuropathy (DPN) by magnetic resonance (MR) neurography with large anatomical coverage.

Methods: Patients (N = 25) with mild-to-moderate (Neuropathy-Symptom-Score [NSS]/Neuropathy Deficit Score [NDS] 3.8 ± 0.3/2.6 ± 0.5) and patients (n = 10) with severe DPN (6.2 ± 0.6/7.4 ± 0.5) were compared to patients (n = 15) with diabetes but no DPN and to age-/sex-matched nondiabetic controls (n = 25). All subjects underwent MR neurography with large spatial coverage and high resolution from spinal nerve to ankle level: four slabs per leg, each with 35 axial slices (T2- and proton-density-weighted two dimensional turbo-spin-echo sequences; voxel size: 0.4 × 0.3 × 3.5 mm(3) ) and a three-dimensional T2-weighted sequence to cover spinal nerves and plexus. Nerve segmentation was performed on a total of 280 slices per subject. Nerve lesion voxels were determined independently from operator input by statistical classification against the nondiabetic cohort. At the site with highest lesion-voxel burden, signal quantification was performed by calculating nerve proton spin density and T2 relaxation time.

Results: Total burden of nerve lesion voxels was significantly increased in DPN (p = 0.003) with strong spatial predominance at thigh level, where average lesion voxel load was significantly higher in severe (57 ± 18.4; p = 0.0022) and in mild-to-moderate DPN (35 ± 4.0; p < 0.001) than in controls (18 ± 3.6). Signal quantification at the site of predominant lesion burden (thigh) revealed a significant increase of nerve proton spin density in severe (360 ± 22.9; p = 0.043) and in mild-to-moderate DPN (365 ± 15.2; p = 0.001) versus controls (288 ± 13.4), but not of T2 relaxation time (p = 0.49). Nerve proton spin density predicted severity of DPN with an odds ratio of 2.9 (95% confidence interval: 2.4-3.5; p < 0.001) per 100 proton spins.

Interpretation: In DPN, the predominant site of microstructural nerve alteration is at the thigh level with a strong proximal-to-distal gradient. Nerve proton spin density at the thigh level is a novel quantitative imaging biomarker of early DPN and increases with neuropathy severity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Diabetic Neuropathies / diagnosis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lumbosacral Plexus / pathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged