Recent years have seen major advances in the imaging of cerebrovascular disease. Although quantitative positron emission tomography (PET) has continued to be the gold standard in acquiring functional imaging data, with recent developments continuing to bear fruit, it remains a complex, costly, and not readily available technique. The emphasis in this overview is in the development of the newer magnetic resonance (MR) techniques, such as diffusion-weighted (DWI) and perfusion-weighted imaging (PWI), which allow rapid assessment of the underlying pathophysiology in acute ischaemic stroke. This is of major importance in classifying patients according to pathophysiology rather than clinical and structural imaging data, which may be essential in deciding therapy such as thrombolysis (which has proven benefit within 3-6 h of clinical onset, but can also lead to harmful haemorrhagic transformation) and/or neuroprotection, as well as patient selection in clinical trials. In conjunction with magnetic resonance angiography (MRA), DWI-PWI has been shown to improve the diagnosis and clinical management of stroke. Other novel MR techniques which have yet to reach the clinician, such as spectroscopic imaging, diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and blood oxygenation level-dependent functional MRI (BOLD-fMRI), are currently established research tools which provide data about infarct evolution, fibre disruption and the mechanisms of stroke recovery. Electrophysiological methods including transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and magneto-encephalography (MEG) will not be addressed here.
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