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J Neurosurg Pediatr. 2010 Oct;6(4):340-5. doi: 10.3171/2010.7.PEDS09511.

Magnetic resonance imaging versus ultrasonography for the in utero evaluation of central nervous system anomalies.

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Section of Pediatric Neurosurgery, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus, Ohio, USA.



The use of fetal MR imaging for the in utero evaluation of pathological conditions of the CNS is widely accepted as an adjunct to fetal ultrasonography studies. Magnetic resonance imaging is thought to characterize CNS anomalies better, and to provide a more exact diagnosis and accurate prognosis. The purpose of this study was to determine the role of and indications for fetal MR imaging in evaluating fetuses with different CNS abnormalities that were seen initially on prenatal sonograms.


Over a 3-year period, fetuses with prior sonographic evidence of CNS abnormalities who consequently received prenatal MR imaging at Columbus Nationwide Children's Hospital within 2 weeks of the fetal ultrasonography study were included in this study. For each patient, radiological reports from both studies were reviewed, analyzed, and compared with the findings at postnatal imaging or physical examination. Results of the 2 modalities were then compared in terms of diagnostic accuracy.


Twenty-six fetuses were included in this study on the basis of an in utero sonogram showing a CNS anomaly. Their gestational age ranged from 17 to 35 weeks, with a mean of 25 weeks at the time of fetal ultrasonography. Hydrocephalus was identified in 16 fetuses, 6 had evidence of a spinal dysraphic defect, 2 had holoprosencephaly, 1 had an encephalocele, and 1 had multiple body abnormalities requiring detailed CNS evaluation. Twenty-five of the fetuses were correctly evaluated as having abnormal CNS findings on both fetal ultrasonography and fetal MR imaging. Fetal ultrasonography provided a correct prenatal diagnosis in 20 cases, whereas fetal MR imaging was correct in 22 cases. There were 9 cumulative false-positive results for fetal ultrasonography and 7 for fetal MR imaging, whereas for false-negative results there were a total of 34 and 19, respectively.


Fetal MR imaging is more sensitive in detecting fetal CNS abnormalities, but its ability to provide a correct prenatal diagnosis is only marginally superior to fetal ultrasonography. Moreover, fetal MR imaging is not exempt from misdiagnosis, and still shows a significantly high rate of false-negative results. Particularly for spinal dysraphic defects, fetal MR imaging does not seem to add important diagnostic or prognostic details when compared with fetal ultrasonography.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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