Diffusion tensor imaging of brain tumours at 3T: a potential tool for assessing white matter tract invasion?


AIM: To determine whether diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) of brain tumours can demonstrate abnormalities distal to hyperintensities on T2-weighted images, and possibly relate these to tumour grade. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Twenty patients with histologically confirmed supratentorial tumours, both gliomas (high and low grade) and metastases, were imaged at 3T using T2-weighted and DTI sequences. Regions of interest (ROI) were drawn within the tumour, in white matter at various distances from the tumour and in areas of abnormality on DTI that appeared normal on T2-weighted images. The relative anisotropy index (RAI)-a measure of white matter organization, was calculated for these ROI. RESULTS: The abnormality on DTI was larger than that seen on T2-weighted images in 10/13 patients (77%) with high-grade gliomas. New abnormalities were seen in the contralateral white matter in 4/13 (30%) of these cases. In these high-grade tumours the RAI in areas of white matter disruption with normal appearance on T2-weighted images was reduced (0.19+/-0.04). Even excluding patients with previous radiotherapy this difference remains significant. In all non high-grade tumours (WHO grade II gliomas and metastases) the tumour extent on DTI was identical to the abnormalities shown on T2-weighted imaging and RAI measurements were not reduced (0.3+/-0.04). CONCLUSIONS: Subtle white matter disruption can be identified using DTI in patients with high-grade gliomas. Such disruption is not identified in association with metastases or low-grade gliomas despite these tumours producing significant mass effect and oedema. We suggest the changes in DTI may be due to tumour infiltration and that the DTI may provide a useful method of detecting occult white matter invasion by gliomas.