Diffusion tensor imaging detects early Wallerian degeneration of the pyramidal tract after ischemic stroke

Neuroimage. 2004 Aug;22(4):1767-74. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2004.03.041.


We used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to assess Wallerian degeneration of the pyramidal tract within the first 2 weeks after ischemic stroke, and correlated the extent of Wallerian degeneration with the motor deficit. Nine patients with middle cerebral artery stroke were examined 2-16 days after stroke by DTI and T2-weighted MRI. We measured fractional anisotropy (FA), averaged diffusivity (Dav), eigenvalues of the diffusion tensor and T2-weighted signal in the cerebral peduncle and compared these values between the affected and the unaffected side and between patients and six controls. FA was significantly reduced on the affected side compared to the unaffected side and compared to the control group. The largest eigenvalue was reduced, whereas the smallest eigenvalue was elevated on the affected side. There was no significant difference in T2-weighted signal and Dav. The decrease of anisotropy correlated positively with the motor deficit at the time of DTI study and 90 days after stroke. The reduction of anisotropy mirrors the disintegration of axonal structures, as it occurs in the early phase of Wallerian degeneration. DTI detects changes of water diffusion related to beginning pyramidal tract degeneration within the first 2 weeks after stroke that are not yet visible in conventional T2-weighted or orientationally averaged diffusion weighted MRI. We demonstrated for the first time a correlation of early DTI findings of pyramidal tract damage with the motor deficit. DTI can help prognosing recovery of motor function after stroke within the early subacute phase.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Anisotropy
  • Axons / pathology
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Infarction, Middle Cerebral Artery / diagnosis*
  • Infarction, Middle Cerebral Artery / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Movement Disorders / diagnosis
  • Movement Disorders / pathology
  • Neurologic Examination
  • Prognosis
  • Pyramidal Tracts / pathology*
  • Reference Values
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Wallerian Degeneration / diagnosis*
  • Wallerian Degeneration / pathology