MR imaging profile and histopathological characteristics of tumour vasculature, cell density and proliferation rate define two distinct growth patterns of human brain metastases from lung cancer

Neuroradiology. 2023 Feb;65(2):275-285. doi: 10.1007/s00234-022-03060-2. Epub 2022 Oct 3.


Purpose: Non-invasive prediction of the tumour of origin giving rise to brain metastases (BMs) using MRI measurements obtained in radiological routine and elucidating the biological basis by matched histopathological analysis.

Methods: Preoperative MRI and histological parameters of 95 BM patients (female, 50; mean age 59.6 ± 11.5 years) suffering from different primary tumours were retrospectively analysed. MR features were assessed by region of interest (ROI) measurements of signal intensities on unenhanced T1-, T2-, diffusion-weighted imaging and apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) normalised to an internal reference ROI. Furthermore, we assessed BM size and oedema as well as cell density, proliferation rate, microvessel density and vessel area as histopathological parameters.

Results: Applying recursive partitioning conditional inference trees, only histopathological parameters could stratify the primary tumour entities. We identified two distinct BM growth patterns depending on their proliferative status: Ki67high BMs were larger (p = 0.02), showed less peritumoural oedema (p = 0.02) and showed a trend towards higher cell density (p = 0.05). Furthermore, Ki67high BMs were associated with higher DWI signals (p = 0.03) and reduced ADC values (p = 0.004). Vessel density was strongly reduced in Ki67high BM (p < 0.001). These features differentiated between lung cancer BM entities (p ≤ 0.03 for all features) with SCLCs representing predominantly the Ki67high group, while NSCLCs rather matching with Ki67low features.

Conclusion: Interpretable and easy to obtain MRI features may not be sufficient to predict directly the primary tumour entity of BM but seem to have the potential to aid differentiating high- and low-proliferative BMs, such as SCLC and NSCLC.

Keywords: Brain metastasis; Histopathology; Imaging biomarker; Magnetic resonance imaging; Tumour vasculature.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Brain Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung*
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Humans
  • Ki-67 Antigen
  • Lung Neoplasms* / diagnostic imaging
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Ki-67 Antigen