Axial diffusivity is the primary correlate of axonal injury in the experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis spinal cord: a quantitative pixelwise analysis

J Neurosci. 2009 Mar 4;29(9):2805-13. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4605-08.2009.


The dissociation between magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and permanent disability in multiple sclerosis (MS), termed the clinicoradiological paradox, can primarily be attributed to the lack of specificity of conventional, relaxivity-based MRI measurements in detecting axonal damage, the primary pathological correlate of long-term impairment in MS. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) has shown promise in specifically detecting axonal damage and demyelination in MS and its animal model, experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE). To quantify the specificity of DTI in detecting axonal injury, in vivo DTI maps from the spinal cords of mice with EAE and quantitative histological maps were both registered to a common space. A pixelwise correlation analysis between DTI parameters, histological metrics, and EAE scores revealed a significant correlation between the water diffusion parallel to the white matter fibers, or axial diffusivity, and EAE score. Furthermore, axial diffusivity was the primary correlate of quantitative staining for neurofilaments (SMI31), markers of axonal integrity. Both axial diffusivity and neurofilament staining were decreased throughout the entire white matter, not solely within the demyelinated lesions seen in EAE. In contrast, although anisotropy was significantly correlated with EAE score, it was not correlated with axonal damage. The results demonstrate a strong, quantitative relationship between axial diffusivity and axonal damage and show that anisotropy is not specific for axonal damage after inflammatory demyelination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anisotropy
  • Axons / pathology*
  • Biomarkers
  • Demyelinating Diseases / pathology
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Encephalomyelitis, Autoimmune, Experimental / pathology*
  • Encephalomyelitis, Autoimmune, Experimental / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Hindlimb / physiopathology
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Mice
  • Neurofilament Proteins / metabolism
  • Spinal Cord / pathology*


  • Biomarkers
  • Neurofilament Proteins