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New Type of MRI Can Take Pictures of Nerves

Magnetic Resonance Neurography


Updated October 14, 2008

Updated October 14, 2008

Magnetic resonance neurography (MRN) is a new type of adapted MRI that can take pictures of nerves. MRN can be used to diagnose conditions like sciatica and piriformis syndrome, as well as pinpoint the source of related nerve pain. However, at this point, MRN is so new that it is not widely available at most doctors' offices and hospitals.

How Does It Work?

MRN uses specialized MRI technology called pulse sequences in combination with 3-D software to take pictures of the nerves. The pulse sequences render pictures of nerves as the brightest structures in the image, separating them out from the other structures for a detailed look. The 3-D software allows the doctor to follow the nerves as they course a non-linear path through the body, for a complete set of views.

MRN is done without the use of injection of contrast dye material into the patient. Having the test done is very similar to a traditional MRI, and takes no longer than a half-hour to complete. Being able to view the nerves helps doctors to diagnose such conditions as sciatica not caused by disk problems.

Researchers estimate that annually, up to one million patients with sciatica cannot be diagnosed when tested with the traditional MRI, due to the MRI's inability to record information about the nerves. With the ability to detect damaged nerves, MRN could one day expand the number of confirmable diagnoses.

Lewis, A.M., Layzer, R, Engstrom, J.W., Barbaro, N.M, & Chin, C.T. (Oct 2006). Magnetic resonance neurography in extraspinal sciatica. Arch Neurol., 63(10), Retrieved Jan 14 2006.

Moore, K.R., Tsuruda, J.S., & Dailey, A.T. The value of MR neurography for evaluating extraspinal neuropathic leg pain: a pictorial essay. AJNR Am J Neuroradiol, 2001 Apr;22(4), Retrieved Jan 15 2006.

Filler, A.G., Haynes, J., Jordan, S.E., Prager, J., & Villablanca, J.P. (Feb 2005). Sciatica of non-disk origin and piriformis syndrome: diagnosis by magnetic resonance neurography and interventional magnetic resonance imaging with outcome study of resulting treatment. Spine, Feb 2005;2(2), Retrieved Jan 14 2006.

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