The diagnostic efficacy of magnetic resonance (MR) and computed tomography (CT) for detection and quantification of hepatic iron was assessed in a series of patients under investigation for clinical or biochemical evidence of hepatic iron overload. Thirty patients underwent MR imaging (SE 30,60/1000 or SE 30,60/2000) at 0.5 Tesla with calculation of hepatic T2 and liver to paraspinous muscles signal intensity ratios. Twenty-nine patients also had measurement of hepatic attenuation on noncontrast CT images. Results of these imaging studies were correlated in all patients with quantitative iron determination from liver biopsy specimens. The best predictor of liver iron among parameters studied was the ratio of the signal intensities of liver and paraspinous muscle (L/M) on a SE 60/1000 sequence. Both MR using L/M ratios and CT were sensitive methods for detection of severe degrees of hepatic iron overload with 100% of patients with hepatic iron on biopsy > 600 μg/100 mg liver dry weight detected on the basis of L/M < 0.6 or CT attenuation > 70 Hounsfield units (HU). The MR parameter, however, was more specific than CT (100 vs 50%) and showed a higher degree of correlation with quantitated hepatic iron from biopsy. T2 measurements showed poor correlation with hepatic iron, due to difficulty in obtaining precise T2 measurements in vivo when the signal intensity is low. None of the parameters utilized was sensitive for detecting mild or moderate degrees of hepatic iron overload.
We conclude that MR and CT are sensitive techniques for noninvasive detection of severe hepatic iron overload, with MR providing greater specificity than CT. Lesser degrees of iron deposition, however, may go undetected by our current imaging techniques.