MR elastography of the brain and its application in neurological diseases

Neuroimage. 2019 Feb 15:187:176-183. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2017.10.008. Epub 2017 Oct 7.


Magnetic resonance elastography (MRE) is an imaging technique for noninvasively and quantitatively assessing tissue stiffness, akin to palpation. MRE is further able assess the mechanical properties of tissues that cannot be reached by hand including the brain. The technique is a three-step process beginning with the introduction of shear waves into the tissue of interest by applying an external vibration. Next, the resulting motion is imaged using a phase-contrast MR pulse sequence with motion encoding gradients that are synchronized to the vibration. Finally, the measured displacement images are mathematically inverted to compute a map of the estimated stiffness. In the brain, the technique has demonstrated strong test-retest repeatability with typical errors of 1% for measuring global stiffness, 2% for measuring stiffness in the lobes of the brain, and 3-7% for measuring stiffness in subcortical gray matter. In healthy volunteers, multiple studies have confirmed that stiffness decreases with age, while more recent studies have demonstrated a strong relationship between viscoelasticity and behavioral performance. Furthermore, several studies have demonstrated the sensitivity of brain stiffness to neurodegeneration, as stiffness has been shown to decrease in multiple sclerosis and in several forms of dementia. Moreover, the spatial pattern of stiffness changes varies among these different classes of dementia. Finally, MRE is a promising tool for the preoperative assessment of intracranial tumors, as it can measure both tumor consistency and adherence to surrounding tissues. These factors are important predictors of surgical difficulty. In brief, MRE demonstrates potential value in a number of neurological diseases. However, significant opportunity remains to further refine the technique and better understand the underlying physiology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Dementia / diagnostic imaging*
  • Dementia / physiopathology
  • Demyelinating Diseases / pathology
  • Elasticity Imaging Techniques / methods*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted