FLAIR* to visualize veins in white matter lesions: A new tool for the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis?

Eur Radiol. 2017 Oct;27(10):4257-4263. doi: 10.1007/s00330-017-4822-z. Epub 2017 Apr 13.


Objective: To explore the potential of a post-processing technique combining FLAIR and T2* (FLAIR*) to distinguish between lesions caused by multiple sclerosis (MS) from cerebral small vessel disease (SVD) in a clinical setting.

Methods: FLAIR and T2* head datasets acquired at 3T of 25 people with relapsing MS (pwRMS) and ten with pwSVD were used. After post-processing, FLAIR* maps were used to determine the proportion of white matter lesions (WML) showing the 'vein in lesion' sign (VIL), a characteristic histopathological feature of MS plaques. Sensitivity and specificity of MS diagnosis were examined on the basis of >45% VIL+ and >60% VIL+ WML, and compared with current dissemination in space (DIS) MRI criteria.

Results: All pwRMS had >45% VIL+ WML (range 58-100%) whilst in pwSVD the proportion of VIL+ WML was significantly lower (0-64%; mean 32±20%). Sensitivity based on >45% VIL+ was 100% and specificity 80% whilst with >60% VIL+ as the criterion, sensitivity was 96% and specificity 90%. DIS criteria had 96% sensitivity and 40% specificity.

Conclusion: FLAIR* enables VIL+ WML detection in a clinical setting, facilitating differentiation of MS from SVD based on brain MRI.

Key points: • FLAIR* in a clinical setting allows visualization of veins in white matter lesions. • Significant proportions of MS lesions demonstrate a vein in lesion on MRI. • Microangiopathic lesions demonstrate a lower proportion of intralesional veins than MS lesions. • Intralesional vein-based criteria may complement current MRI criteria for MS diagnosis.

Keywords: Central vein; MRI; Multiple sclerosis; Neuroimaging; White matter.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain Ischemia / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Small Vessel Diseases / diagnostic imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis / pathology*
  • Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Veins / diagnostic imaging*
  • White Matter / diagnostic imaging*
  • White Matter / pathology