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Magnetic resonance imaging of the hepatobiliary tract

Umaprasanna S Karnam, MD
K Rajender Reddy, MD
Stephan Anderson, MD
Section Editors
Sanjiv Chopra, MD, MACP
Jonathan B Kruskal, MD, PhD
Deputy Editor
Shilpa Grover, MD, MPH, AGAF


Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has rapidly become an important tool in the investigation of patients with hepatobiliary disease, particularly for the characterization and staging of liver lesions seen on other imaging tests. MRI also has a role as a noninvasive means of imaging the biliary tree. (See "Magnetic resonance cholangiopancreatography".)


MRI uses a strong magnetic field to align rotating hydrogen protons within the tissue being imaged. During realignment of the protons, energy is released and sampled at different time intervals. The measured signal intensity from this energy depends upon the degree and rate of realignment within a very specific time period, which in turn depends upon the water and fat content of the different tissues. These signals are then converted into grayscale cross-sectional images that can be depicted in multiple planes or in three dimensions [1].

The T1 and T2 relaxation times are important parameters determining image and lesion contrast with reference to normal liver parenchyma.

The T1 relaxation time (and the resulting T1-weighted image) refers to the time required for protons to fully realign within an external magnetic field following exposure to a radio wave pulse of specific strength and duration

The T2 relaxation time (and the resulting T2-weighted image) describes the rate at which protons are put out of phase with respect to adjacent protons

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Apr 05, 2016.
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