Object: The purpose of this study was to assess how early wallerian degeneration in the corticospinal tracts of patients who had suffered from stroke was detected using three-dimensional anisotropy contrast (3D-AC) magnetic resonance (MR) axonography and to explore the possibility of predicting the prognosis for motor function in these patients.
Methods: Ten healthy volunteers and 16 stroke patients with hemiparesis were studied using MR images including 3D-AC MR axonography images obtained using a 1.5-tesla MR imaging system. The axonography was performed using an echoplanar imaging method. All patients underwent MR studies 2, 3, and 10 weeks after stroke onset. To detect wallerian degeneration, the diffusion anisotropy in the corticospinal tracts at the level of the upper pons was evaluated on axial images. These MR findings were compared with the patients' motor functions, which were classified according to the Brunnstrom criteria 12 weeks after the onset of stroke. In all patients with poor recovery (Brunnstrom Stages I-IV), wallerian degeneration, which was demonstrated as a reduction in diffusion anisotropy on axonography images, could be observed in the corticospinal tracts; this degeneration was not found in patients with good recovery (Stages V and VI). Axonography could be used to detect degeneration between 2 and 3 weeks after stroke onset. On conventional T2-weighted MR images, hyperintense areas indicating wallerian degeneration were not detected until 10 weeks after stroke onset.
Conclusions: With the aid of 3D-AC MR axonography, wallerian degeneration can be detected in the corticospinal tracts during the early stage of stroke (2-3 weeks after onset), much earlier than it can be detected using T2-weighted MR imaging. The procedure of 3D-AC MR axonography may be useful in predicting motor function prognosis in stroke patients.