One goal of in vivo neuroimaging is the detection of neurodegenerative processes and anatomical reorganizations after spinal cord (SC) injury. Non-invasive examination of white matter fibers in the living SC can be conducted using magnetic resonance diffusion-weighted imaging. However, this technique is challenging at the spinal level due to the small cross-sectional size of the cord and the presence of physiological motion and susceptibility artifacts. In this study, we acquired in vivo high angular resolution diffusion imaging (HARDI) data at 3T in cats submitted to partial SC injury. Cats were imaged before, 3 and 21 days after injury. Spatial resolution was enhanced to 1.5 × 1.5 × 1 mm(3) using super-resolution technique and distortions were corrected using the reversed gradient method. Tractography-derived regions of interest were generated in the dorsal, ventral, right and left quadrants, to evaluate diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and Q-Ball imaging metrics with regards to their sensitivity in detecting primary and secondary lesions. A three-way ANOVA tested the effect of session (intact, D3, D21), cross-sectional region (left, right, dorsal and ventral) and rostrocaudal location. Significant effect of session was found for FA (P<0.001), GFA (P<0.05) and radial diffusivity (P<0.001). Post-hoc paired T-test corrected for multiple comparisons showed significant changes at the lesion epicenter (P<0.005). More interestingly, significant changes were also found several centimeters from the lesion epicenter at both 3 and 21 days. This decrease was specific to the type of fibers, i.e., rostrally to the lesion on the dorsal aspect of the cord and caudally to the lesion ipsilaterally, suggesting the detection of Wallerian degeneration.
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