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J Child Neurol. 2008 Feb;23(2):216-27. doi: 10.1177/0883073807307983.

A systematic review of neuroimaging for cerebral palsy.

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Department of Epidemiology, College of Human Medicine, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, USA.


The American Academy of Neurology now recommends that all cases of cerebral palsy of unknown origin undergo neuroimaging. Controversy surrounds this recommendation because of concerns about the adequacy of the supporting evidence. This article reviews the evidence provided by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) imaging studies in cerebral palsy and discusses the potential benefits of imaging, techniques in current use, and future directions, with a focus on improving etiologic understanding. Most (83%) children with cerebral palsy have abnormal neuroradiological findings, with white matter damage the most common abnormality. Combined gray and white matter abnormalities are more common among children with hemiplegia; isolated white matter abnormalities are more common with bilateral spasticity or athetosis, and with ataxia; isolated gray matter damage is the least common finding. About 10% of cerebral palsy is attributable to brain malformations, and 17% of cerebral palsy cases have no abnormality detectable by conventional MR or CT imaging. Although neuroimaging studies have increased our understanding of the abnormalities in brain development in cerebral palsy, they are less informative than they might be because of 4 common problems: (1) inappropriate assignment of etiology to morphologic findings, (2) inconsistent descriptions of radiologic findings, (3) uncertain relationship of pathologic findings to brain insult timing estimates, and (4) study designs that are not based on generalizable samples. Neuroimaging is not necessarily required for diagnosis of cerebral palsy because the disorder is based on clinical findings. The principal contribution of imaging is to the understanding of etiology and pathogenesis, including ruling in or out conditions that may have implications for genetic counseling, such as malformations. In the future, as more sophisticated imaging procedures are applied to cerebral palsy, specific morphologic findings may be linked to etiologic events or exposures, thus leading to potential pathways for prevention.

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