Three-Dimensional In vivo Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of Mouse Facial Nerve Regeneration

Universität Ulm


MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is an indispensable tool in the diagnosis of centrals nervous system (CNS) disorders such as spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis (MS). In contrast, diagnosis of peripheral nerve injuries largely depends on clinical and electrophysiological parameters. Thus, currently MRI is not regularly used which in part is due to small nerve calibers and isointensity with surrounding tissue such as muscles.

In this study we performed translational MRI research in mice to establish a novel MRI protocol visualizing intact and injured peripheral nerves in a non-invasive manner without contrast agents. With this protocol we were able to image even very small nerves and nerve branches such as the mouse facial nerve (diameter 100–300 μm) at highest spatial resolution. Analysis was performed in the same animal in a longitudinal study spanning 3 weeks after injury. Nerve injury caused hyperintense signal in T2-weighted images and an increase in nerve size of the proximal and distal nerve stumps were observed. Further hyperintense signal was observed in a bulb-like structure in the lesion site, which correlated histologically with the production of fibrotic tissue and immune cell infiltration. The longitudinal MR representation of the facial nerve lesions correlated well with physiological recovery of nerve function by quantifying whisker movement.

In summary, we provide a novel protocol in rodents allowing for non-invasive, non-contrast agent enhanced, high-resolution MR imaging of small peripheral nerves longitudinally over several weeks. This protocol might further help to establish MRI as an important diagnostic and post-surgery follow-up tool to monitor peripheral nerve injuries in humans.


R. Wanner, A. Abaei, V. Rasche & B. Knöll: Three-Dimensional In vivo Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of Mouse Facial Nerve Regeneration. Frontiers in Neurology 10 Article 310 (2019)