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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2001 Aug;25(8):1206-12.

Magnetic resonance relaxometry reveals central pontine abnormalities in clinically asymptomatic alcoholic men.

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Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California 94305-5723, USA.



Central pontine myelinolysis (CPM) is a rare, debilitating, life-threatening condition, associated with chronic alcoholism, rapid correction of hyponatremia, and advanced age. It is unknown, however, whether older alcoholic patients who by age and diagnosis are at risk for CPM have objectively determined neuroimaging evidence of preclinical CPM that could be valuable in understanding its development and in initiating appropriate treatment. Accordingly, we examined central pontine magnetic resonance (MR) transverse relaxation time (T2), which reflects myelin and axonal integrity when measured in white matter and is prolonged with pathology that causes increased free water content in tissue.


The subjects were 46 alcoholic men who were abstinent from alcohol for about 1 month and were asymptomatic for CPM, 9 men and 1 woman with alcoholic Korsakoff's syndrome (KS), and 74 healthy control men. All subjects received coronally acquired dual-echo MR imaging (MRI), from which T2 times were calculated in central pons. MRI films were read clinically and independently of relaxometry results. Hematological and neuropsychological data were also available for many subjects.


Only the KS group showed prolonged T2 times; however, pontine T2 prolongation increased significantly with older age in the asymptomatic alcoholics but not controls. Clinical radiological readings detected pontine signal hyperintensity in five KS subjects (two without dementia and three with dementia), one control, and no alcoholic patient. Hematologic indexes of macrocytic anemia and nutritional deficiency and neuropsychological measures of verbal and nonverbal fluency correlated with prolonged T2 times in alcoholic men.


This CPM-like condition, manifest as prolonged T2, may occur with higher incidence than previously thought in clinically asymptomatic alcoholism and may contribute to neuropsychological compromise of initiation and production. Preclinical detection of abnormal pontine signal properties with MR relaxometry may identify patients at high risk for developing CPM.

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