MRI and pathological examination of post-mortem brains: the problem of white matter high signal areas

Neuroradiology. 1994 Jul;36(5):393-8. doi: 10.1007/BF00612126.


We examined 21 brains from individuals more than 65 years of age by MRI and neuropathological methods to study the frequency and morphology of white matter changes. There were 16 brains from neurologically normal subjects (Group 1) while the remaining 5 (Group 2) had neurological disturbances. In Group 1 MRI showed high signal areas in the periventricular white matter in 12 brains and in the deep white matter in 9. All had focal areas, with confluent zones in 4; 3 cystic infarcts were also detected. Neuropathology in this Group showed periventricular changes of variable extent in all cases, vacuolated myelin around the perivascular spaces in 14 and degenerate myelin in 4. Macroscopic inspection showed 3 cystic lacunar infarcts, while areas of recent infarction were present on histology in 2. Four of the Group 2 brains had periventricular MRI changes; high signal areas in deep white matter were focal in 2 and confluent in 1. Cystic infarcts were detected in 3 cases. Neuropathology showed periventricular changes in all the brains; in 4 myelin around the perivascular spaces was vacuolated while degenerate myelin was demonstrated in 1. There were also old (1) and recent (2) lacunar infarcts. High signal areas in the white matter thus have different histological backgrounds but only in a minority of cases do they seem to be of pathological significance and, as a rule, they are not related to the presence of neurological disturbances. Correlative MRI-neuropathological studies are helpful for characterising abnormalities detected by techniques, like MRI, which are sensitive but not very specific.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / pathology*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Female
  • Histocytological Preparation Techniques
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male