Toluene abuse: physical basis for hypointensity of the basal ganglia on T2-weighted MR images

Radiology. 1994 Nov;193(2):473-6. doi: 10.1148/radiology.193.2.7972765.


Purpose: To explain the hypointensity in the basal ganglia on T2-weighted magnetic resonance (MR) images of brains of toluene abusers.

Materials and methods: Eight patients with histories of toluene abuse underwent MR imaging. A bilayered model of dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine (DPPC; 100 mmol/L concentration) and varying concentrations of toluene was formed. The DPPC control and toluene-mixed bilayers underwent MR imaging. T1 and T2 were measured as a function of toluene and lipid concentrations.

Results: T2-weighted images of patients who had abused toluene showed marked hypointensity in the thalami and moderate hypointensity in the basal ganglia. Measurements of the DPPC-toluene phantom indicated that toluene-tainted lipid bilayers dramatically shortened T2 and had little effect on T1. By comparison, DPPC itself had little discernible effect on either T1 or T2.

Conclusion: This model suggests that partitioning of toluene into the lipid membranes of cells in cerebral tissue may be responsible for the hypointensity of basal ganglia noted on T2-weighted MR images of brains of toluene abusers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Basal Ganglia / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Structural
  • Substance-Related Disorders / pathology*
  • Toluene*


  • Toluene