The Role of Diffusion Tensor Imaging and Fractional Anisotropy in the Evaluation of Patients With Idiopathic Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus: A Literature Review

Neurosurg Focus. 2016 Sep;41(3):E12. doi: 10.3171/2016.6.FOCUS16192.


OBJECTIVE Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) for the assessment of fractional anisotropy (FA) and involving measurements of mean diffusivity (MD) and apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) represents a novel, MRI-based, noninvasive technique that may delineate microstructural changes in cerebral white matter (WM). For example, DTI may be used for the diagnosis and differentiation of idiopathic normal pressure hydrocephalus (iNPH) from other neurodegenerative diseases with similar imaging findings and clinical symptoms and signs. The goal of the current study was to identify and analyze recently published series on the use of DTI as a diagnostic tool. Moreover, the authors also explored the utility of DTI in identifying patients with iNPH who could be managed by surgical intervention. METHODS The authors performed a literature search of the PubMed database by using any possible combinations of the following terms: "Alzheimer's disease," "brain," "cerebrospinal fluid," "CSF," "diffusion tensor imaging," "DTI," "hydrocephalus," "idiopathic," "magnetic resonance imaging," "normal pressure," "Parkinson's disease," and "shunting." Moreover, all reference lists from the retrieved articles were reviewed to identify any additional pertinent articles. RESULTS The literature search retrieved 19 studies in which DTI was used for the identification and differentiation of iNPH from other neurodegenerative diseases. The DTI protocols involved different approaches, such as region of interest (ROI) methods, tract-based spatial statistics, voxel-based analysis, and delta-ADC analysis. The most studied anatomical regions were the periventricular WM areas, such as the internal capsule (IC), the corticospinal tract (CST), and the corpus callosum (CC). Patients with iNPH had significantly higher MD in the periventricular WM areas of the CST and the CC than had healthy controls. In addition, FA and ADCs were significantly higher in the CST of iNPH patients than in any other patients with other neurodegenerative diseases. Gait abnormalities of iNPH patients were statistically significantly and negatively correlated with FA in the CST and the minor forceps. Fractional anisotropy had a sensitivity of 94% and a specificity of 80% for diagnosing iNPH. Furthermore, FA and MD values in the CST, the IC, the anterior thalamic region, the fornix, and the hippocampus regions could help differentiate iNPH from Alzheimer or Parkinson disease. Interestingly, CSF drainage or ventriculoperitoneal shunting significantly modified FA and ADCs in iNPH patients whose condition clinically responded to these maneuvers. CONCLUSIONS Measurements of FA and MD significantly contribute to the detection of axonal loss and gliosis in the periventricular WM areas in patients with iNPH. Diffusion tensor imaging may also represent a valuable noninvasive method for differentiating iNPH from other neurodegenerative diseases. Moreover, DTI can detect dynamic changes in the WM tracts after lumbar drainage or shunting procedures and could help identify iNPH patients who may benefit from surgical intervention.

Keywords: AD = Alzheimer disease; ADC = apparent diffusion coefficient; Alzheimer disease; CC = corpus callosum; CST = corticospinal tract; DKI = diffusional kurtosis imaging; DTI = diffusion tensor imaging; FA = fractional anisotropy; IC = internal capsule; MD = mean diffusivity; MTR = magnetization transfer ratio; NPH = normal pressure hydrocephalus; PD = Parkinson disease; Parkinson disease; ROI = region of interest; TBSS = tract-based spatial statistics; WM = white matter; diffusion tensor imaging; fractional anisotropy; iNPH = idiopathic NPH; idiopathic; normal pressure hydrocephalus; vascular disorders.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anisotropy
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid Shunts / methods
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid Shunts / standards
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / methods
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / standards
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging / methods
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging / standards*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocephalus, Normal Pressure / diagnostic imaging*
  • Hydrocephalus, Normal Pressure / surgery*