Chronic cervical spinal cord injury: DTI correlates with clinical and electrophysiological measures

J Neurotrauma. 2012 May 20;29(8):1556-66. doi: 10.1089/neu.2011.2027. Epub 2012 Feb 22.


Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) is rarely applied in spinal cord injury (SCI). The aim of this study was to correlate diffusion properties after SCI with electrophysiological and neurological measures. Nineteen traumatic cervical SCI subjects and 28 age-matched healthy subjects participated in this study. DTI data of the spinal cord were acquired with a Philips Achieva 3 T MR scanner using an outer volume suppressed, reduced field of view (FOV) acquisition with oblique slice excitation and a single-shot EPI readout. Neurological and electrophysiological measures, American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) impairment scale scores, and motor (MEP) and somatosensory evoked potentials (SSEP) were assessed in SCI subjects. Fractional anisotropy (FA) values were decreased in the SCI subjects compared to the healthy subjects. In upper cervical segments, the decrease in FA was significant for the evaluation of the entire cross-sectional area of the spinal cord, and for corticospinal and sensory tracts. A decreasing trend was also found at the thoracic level for the corticospinal tracts. The decrease of DTI values correlated with the clinical completeness of SCI, and with SSEP amplitudes. The reduced DTI values seen in the SCI subjects are likely due to demyelination and axonal degeneration of spinal tracts, which are related to clinical and electrophysiological measures. A reduction in DTI values in regions remote from the injury site suggests their involvement with wallerian axonal degeneration. DTI can be used for the quantitative evaluation of the extent of spinal cord damage, and eventually to monitor the effects of future regeneration-inducing treatments.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anisotropy
  • Cervical Vertebrae
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Evoked Potentials, Somatosensory / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pyramidal Tracts / physiopathology
  • Spinal Cord / physiopathology*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology*