The relative contributions of MRI, SPECT, and PET imaging in epilepsy

Epilepsia. 1994;35 Suppl 6:S72-89. doi: 10.1111/j.1528-1157.1994.tb05990.x.


Functional and structural neuroimaging techniques are increasingly indispensable in the evaluation of epileptic patients for localization of the epileptic area as well as for understanding pathophysiology, propagation, and neurochemical correlates of chronic epilepsy. Although interictal single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) imaging of cerebral blood flow is only moderately sensitive, ictal SPECT markedly improves yield. Positron emission tomography (PET) imaging of interictal cerebral metabolism is more sensitive than measurement of blood flow in temporal lobe epilepsy. Furthermore, PET has greater spatial resolution and versatility in that multiple tracers can image various aspects of cerebral function. Interpretation of all types of functional imaging studies is difficult and requires knowledge of time of most recent seizure activity and structural correlates. Only magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can image the structural changes associated with the underlying epileptic process, and quantitative evidence of hippocampal volume loss has been highly correlated with seizure onset in medial temporal structures. Improved resolution and interpretation have made quantitative MRI more sensitive in temporal lobe epilepsy, as judged by pathology. When judged by electroencephalography (EEG), ictal SPECT and interictal PET have the highest sensitivity and specificity for temporal lobe epilepsy; these neuroimaging techniques have lower sensitivity and higher specificity for extratemporal EEG abnormalities. Regardless of the presence of structural abnormalities, functional imaging by PET or SPECT provides complementary information. Ideally these techniques should be used and interpreted together to improve the localization and understanding of epileptic brain.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • Epilepsy / diagnosis*
  • Epilepsy / diagnostic imaging
  • Epilepsy, Temporal Lobe / diagnosis
  • Epilepsy, Temporal Lobe / diagnostic imaging
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Hippocampus / anatomy & histology
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / statistics & numerical data
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed* / statistics & numerical data
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon* / statistics & numerical data