New boundaries of liver imaging: from morphology to function

Eur J Intern Med. 2020 Sep;79:12-22. doi: 10.1016/j.ejim.2020.06.004. Epub 2020 Jun 19.


From an invisible organ to one of the most explored non-invasively, the liver is, today, one of the cornerstones for current cross-sectional imaging techniques and minimally invasive procedures. After the achievements of US, CT and, most recently, MRI in providing highly accurate morphological and structural information about the organ, a significant scientific development has gained momentum for the last decades, coupling morphology to liver function and contributing far most to what we know today as precision medicine. In fact, dedicated tailor-made investigations are now possible in order to detect and, most of all, quantify physiopathological processes with unprecedented certitude. It is the intention of this review to provide a better insight to the reader of several functional imaging techniques applied to liver imaging. Contrast enhanced imaging, diffusion weighted imaging, elastography, spectral computed tomography and fat and iron assessment techniques are commonly performed clinically. Diffusion kurtosis imaging, magnetic resonance spectroscopy, T1 relaxometry and radiomics remain largely limited to advanced clinical research. Each of them has its own value and place on the diagnostic armamentarium and provide unique qualitative and quantitative information regarding the pathophysiology of diseases, contributing at a large scale to model therapeutic decisions and patient follow-up. Therefore, state-of-the-art liver imaging acts today as a non-invasive surrogate biomarker of many focal and diffuse liver diseases.

Keywords: CT; Imaging; Liver; MR; Oncology; Precision medicine; Quantitative imaging; Tumor; US.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Elasticity Imaging Techniques*
  • Humans
  • Liver / diagnostic imaging
  • Liver Diseases* / diagnostic imaging
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed