Pulmonary magnetic resonance (MR) imaging has been put forward as a new research and diagnostic tool mainly to overcome the limitations of computed tomography and nuclear medicine studies. However, pulmonary MR imaging has been difficult to use because of inherently low proton density, a multitude of air-tissue interfaces, which create significant magnetic field distortions and are commonly referred to as susceptibility artifacts; diminishing signal in the lung; and respiratory and/or cardiac motion artifacts. To overcome these drawbacks of pulmonary MR imaging, technical advances made during the last decade in sequencing, scanner and coil, adaptation of parallel imaging techniques, and utilization of contrast media have been reported as being useful for functional and morphologic assessment of various pulmonary diseases including airway diseases. This review article covers (1) pulmonary MR techniques for morphologic and functional assessment of airway diseases, and (2) pulmonary MR imaging for cystic fibrosis, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Pulmonary MR imaging provides not only morphology-related but also pulmonary function-related information. It has the potential to replace nuclear medicine studies for the identification of regional pulmonary function and may perform a complementary role in airway disease assessment instead of nuclear medicine study. We believe that the findings of further basic studies as well as clinical applications of this new technique will validate the real significance of pulmonary MR imaging for the future of airway disease assessment and its usefulness for diagnostic radiology and pulmonary medicine.
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