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Neurosurgery. 1994 Dec;35(6):1077-85; discussion 1085-6.

Magnetic resonance imaging signal changes in denervated muscles after peripheral nerve injury.

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  • 1Department of Neurological Surgery, University of Washington, Seattle.


The evaluation of peripheral nerve disorders has traditionally relied on a clinical history, physical examination, and electrodiagnostic studies. Recent studies have used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to evaluate a variety of both nerve and muscle disorders. In this article, we describe the use of MRI, using short-tau inversion recovery (STIR) sequences, to evaluate muscle signal characteristics in a variety of peripheral nerve disorders. A total of 32 patients were studied, and 12 representative cases are discussed in detail. Increased STIR signal in muscle was seen in cases of severe axonotmetic injuries involving the transection of axons producing severe denervation changes on electromyography. The increased STIR signal in denervated muscles was seen as early as 4 days after the onset of clinical symptoms, which is significantly earlier than changes detected on electromyography. The MRI signal changes were reversible when the recovery of motor function occurred as a result of further muscle innervation. In cases of neurapraxic nerve injuries, characterized by conduction block without axonal loss, the STIR signal in muscle was normal. These findings show that MRI using STIR sequences provides a panoramic visual representation of denervated muscles useful in localizing and grading the severity of peripheral nerve injury secondary to either disease or trauma. MRI using STIR sequences may therefore play an important role in the prediction of clinical outcome and the formulation of appropriate therapy early after peripheral nerve injury.

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