Open Access Open Badges Research article

MRI findings are often missed in the diagnosis of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

Christopher Carswell1, Andrew Thompson1, Ana Lukic1, John Stevens2, Peter Rudge1, Simon Mead1, John Collinge1 and Harpreet Hyare1*

Author Affiliations

1 MRC Prion Unit and Department of Neurodegenerative Disease, UCL Institute of Neurology, and National Prion Clinic, University College London Hospitals NHS Trust, WC1N 3BG, London, UK

2 Department of Neuroradiology, National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, University College London Hospitals NHS Trust, WC1N 3BG, London, UK

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Neurology 2012, 12:153  doi:10.1186/1471-2377-12-153

Published: 5 December 2012



Establishing a confident clinical diagnosis before an advanced stage of illness can be difficult in Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) but unlike common causes of dementia, prion diseases can often be diagnosed by identifying characteristic MRI signal changes. However, it is not known how often CJD-associated MRI changes are identified at the initial imaging report, whether the most sensitive sequences are used, and what impact MRI-diagnosis has on prompt referral to clinical trial-like studies.


We reviewed the MRI scans of 103 patients with CJD referred to the National Prion Clinic since 2007 and reviewed the presence of CJD-associated changes, compared these findings with the formal report from the referring centre and reviewed the types of sequence performed.


In sCJD we found CJD-associated MRI changes in 83 of 91 cases (91% sensitivity). However, the referring centres documented CJD-associated MRI changes in 43 of the sCJD cases (47% sensitivity). The most common region not documented by referring centres was the cortex (23 of 68 sCJD cases), but there was a statistically significant discrepancy in all regions (p<0.0001). Patients in whom MRI abnormalities were missed by the referring hospital were more advanced at the time of recruitment to a clinical trial-like study (p=0.03).


CJD-associated MRI changes are often not documented on the formal investigation report at the referring centre. This is important as delay makes enrolment to clinical trials futile because of highly advanced disease. If a diagnosis of CJD is suspected, even if the initial imaging is reported as normal, a specialist MRI review either by an experienced neuroradiologist or by a prion disease specialist unit could facilitate earlier diagnosis.

Prion; MR imaging; Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease; Dementia