Diffusion Tensor Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Optic Nerves in Pediatric Hydrocephalus

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While conventional imaging can readily identify ventricular enlargement in hydrocephalus, structural changes that underlie microscopic tissue injury might be more difficult to capture. MRI-based diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) uses properties of water motion to uncover changes in the tissue microenvironment. The authors hypothesized that DTI can identify alterations in optic nerve microstructure in children with hydrocephalus.


The authors retrospectively reviewed 21 children (< 18 years old) who underwent DTI before and after neurosurgical intervention for acute obstructive hydrocephalus from posterior fossa tumors. Their optic nerve quantitative DTI metrics of mean diffusivity (MD) and fractional anisotropy (FA) were compared to those of 21 age-matched healthy controls.


Patients with hydrocephalus had increased MD and decreased FA in bilateral optic nerves, compared to controls (p < 0.001). Normalization of bilateral optic nerve MD and FA on short-term follow-up (median 1 day) after neurosurgical intervention was observed, as was near-complete recovery of MD on long-term follow-up (median 1.8 years).


DTI was used to demonstrate reversible alterations of optic nerve microstructure in children presenting acutely with obstructive hydrocephalus. Alterations in optic nerve MD and FA returned to near-normal levels on short- and long-term follow-up, suggesting that surgical intervention can restore optic nerve tissue microstructure. This technique is a safe, noninvasive imaging tool that quantifies alterations of neural tissue, with a potential role for evaluation of pediatric hydrocephalus.