Diffusion-weighted MR Imaging of the Placenta in Fetuses with Placental Insufficiency

Published Online:https://doi.org/10.1148/radiol.10092283

Clinically and sonographically defined placental dysfunction is associated with a reduction of the apparent diffusion coefficient.


To evaluate diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance (MR) imaging of the human placenta in fetuses with and fetuses without intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) who were suspected of having placental insufficiency.

Materials and Methods

The study was approved by the local ethics committee, and written informed consent was obtained. The authors retrospectively evaluated 1.5-T fetal MR images from 102 singleton pregnancies (mean gestation ± standard deviation, 29 weeks ± 5; range, 21–41 weeks). Morphologic and diffusion-weighted MR imaging were performed. A region of interest analysis of the apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) of the placenta was independently performed by two observers who were blinded to clinical data and outcome. Placental insufficiency was diagnosed if flattening of the growth curve was detected at obstetric ultrasonography (US), if the birth weight was in the 10th percentile or less, or if fetal weight estimated with US was below the 10th percentile. Abnormal findings at Doppler US of the umbilical artery and histopathologic examination of specimens from the placenta were recorded. The ADCs in fetuses with placental insufficiency were compared with those in fetuses of the same gestational age without placental insufficiency and tested for normal distribution. The t tests and Pearson correlation coefficients were used to compare these results at 5% levels of significance.


Thirty-three of the 102 pregnancies were ultimately categorized as having an insufficient placenta. MR imaging depicted morphologic changes (eg, infarction or bleeding) in 27 fetuses. Placental dysfunction was suspected in 33 fetuses at diffusion-weighted imaging (mean ADC, 146.4 sec/mm2 ± 10.63 for fetuses with placental insufficiency vs 177.1 sec/mm2 ± 18.90 for fetuses without placental insufficiency; P < .01, with one false-positive case). The use of diffusion-weighted imaging in addition to US increased sensitivity for the detection of placental insufficiency from 73% to 100%, increased accuracy from 91% to 99%, and preserved specificity at 99%.


Placental dysfunction associated with growth restriction is associated with restricted diffusion and reduced ADC. A decreased ADC used as an early marker of placental damage might be indicative of pregnancy complications such as IUGR.

© RSNA, 2010

Supplemental material: http://radiology.rsna.org/lookup/suppl/doi:10.1148/radiol.10092283/-/DC1


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Article History

Received December 2, 2009; revision requested January 21, 2010; revision received June 18; accepted July 7; final version accepted August 2.
Published online: Dec 2010
Published in print: Dec 2010