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J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2000 Sep;15(9):980-91.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and diseases of the liver and biliary tract. Part 1. Basic principles, MRI in the assessment of diffuse and focal hepatic disease.

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  • 1The Department of Medicine, The University of Queensland and The Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Brisbane, Australia.


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) relies on the physical properties of unpaired protons in tissues to generate images. Unpaired protons behave like tiny bar magnets and will align themselves in a magnetic field. Radiofrequency pulses will excite these aligned protons to higher energy states. As they return to their original state, they will release this energy as radio waves. The frequency of the radio waves depends on the local magnetic field and by varying this over a subject, it is possible to build the images we are familiar with. In general, MRI has not been sufficiently sensitive or specific in the assessment of diffuse liver disease for clinical use. However, because of the specific characteristics of fat and iron, it may be useful in the assessment of hepatic steatosis and iron overload. Magnetic resonance imaging is useful in the assessment of focal liver disease, particularly in conjunction with contrast agents. Haemangiomas have a characteristic bright appearance on T2 weighted images because of the slow flowing blood in dilated sinusoids. Focal nodular hyperplasia (FNH) has a homogenous appearance, and enhances early in the arterial phase after gadolinium injection, while the central scar typically enhances late. Hepatic adenomas have a more heterogenous appearance and also enhance in the arterial phase, but less briskly than FNH. Hepatocellular carcinoma is similar to an adenoma, but typically occurs in a cirrhotic liver and has earlier washout of contrast. The appearance of metastases depends on the underlying primary malignancy. Overall, MRI appears more sensitive and specific than computed tomography with contrast for the detection and evaluation of malignant lesions.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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