Introduction: Measurement of the upper cervical cord area (UCCA) from brain MRI may be an effective way to quantify spinal cord involvement in neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis. However, knowledge on the determinants of UCCA in healthy controls (HCs) is limited.
Methods: In two cohorts of 133 and 285 HCs, we studied the influence of different demographic, body-related, and brain-related parameters on UCCA by simple and partial correlation analyses as well as by voxel-based morphometry (VBM) across both cerebral gray matter (GM) and white matter (WM).
Results: First, we confirmed the known but moderate effect of age on UCCA in the older cohort. Second, we studied the correlation of UCCA with sex, body height, and total intracranial volume (TIV). TIV was the only variable that correlated significantly with UCCA after correction for the other variables. Third, we studied the correlation of UCCA with brain-related parameters. Brain volume correlated stronger with UCCA than TIV. Both volumes of the brain tissue compartments GM and WM correlated with UCCA significantly. WM volume explained variance of UCCA after correction for GM volume, whilst the opposite was not observed. Correspondingly, VBM did not yield any brain region, whose GM content correlated significantly with UCCA, whilst cerebral WM content of cerebrospinal tracts strongly correlated with UCCA. This latter effect increased along a craniocaudal gradient.
Conclusion: UCCA is mainly determined by brain volume as well as by WM content of cerebrospinal tracts.