Background: Prenatal diagnosis of fetal brain anomalies relies mainly upon ultrasonography. However, even in the most experienced hands, the technique has limitations for some difficult diagnoses. MRI is an excellent imaging modality for the paediatric and adult brain.
Objective: To assess the value of prenatal MRI when a cerebral anomaly was detected by US and where the prognosis depended on the identification of other anomalies undetectable by US, or where fetuses were at risk for a CNS lesion even when the US was normal.
Materials and methods: Four hundred prenatal MRI examinations were performed since 1988, and confirmed by postnatal follow-up or pathological examination. Two-thirds of the examinations were performed after 25 weeks of gestation, one-third between 21 and 26 weeks. Fetal immobilisation was obtained by maternal premedication with flunitrazepam, administered orally 1 h before the examination. The examinations were performed on 1.5 T scanners using one or two surface coils.
Results: Prenatal MRI allowed the diagnosis of serious unsuspected lesions such as neuronal migration disorders, ischaemic and haemorrhagic lesions and the abnormalities observed in tuberous sclerosis. It helped to characterise ventricular dilatation and anomalies of the corpus callosum and of the posterior fossa.
Conclusions: MRI is a valuable complementary tool when prenatal US is incomplete, doubtful or limited. Prenatal MRI is particularly useful for the detection of ischaemic and haemorrhagic lesions, neuronal migration disorders and tuberous sclerosis lesions. Detection of these associated anomalies worsens the fetal prognosis, has medico-legal implications and modifies obstetric management. Normal prenatal MRI does not exclude an anomaly.