OBJECTIVE: Methods were invented that made it possible to image peripheral nerves in the body and to image neural tracts in the brain. The history, physical basis, and dyadic tensor concept underlying the methods are reviewed. Over a 15-year period, these techniques—magnetic resonance neurography (MRN) and diffusion tensor imaging—were deployed in the clinical and research community in more than 2500 published research reports and applied to approximately 50 000 patients. Within this group, approximately 5000 patients having MRN were carefully tracked on a prospective basis.
METHODS: A uniform Neurography imaging methodology was applied in the study group, and all images were reviewed and registered by referral source, clinical indication, efficacy of imaging, and quality. Various classes of image findings were identified and subjected to a variety of small targeted prospective outcome studies. Those findings demonstrated to be clinically significant were then tracked in the larger clinical volume data set.
RESULTS: MRN demonstrates mechanical distortion of nerves, hyperintensity consistent with nerve irritation, nerve swelling, discontinuity, relations of nerves to masses, and image features revealing distortion of nerves at entrapment points. These findings are often clinically relevant and warrant full consideration in the diagnostic process. They result in specific pathological diagnoses that are comparable to electrodiagnostic testing in clinical efficacy. A review of clinical outcome studies with diffusion tensor imaging also shows convincing utility.
CONCLUSION: MRN and diffusion tensor imaging neural tract imaging have been validated as indispensable clinical diagnostic methods that provide reliable anatomic pathological information. There is no alternative diagnostic method in many situations. With the elapsing of 15 years, tens of thousands of imaging studies, and thousands of publications, these methods should no longer be considered experimental.