Postmortem diffusion MRI of the entire human spinal cord at microscopic resolution

Neuroimage Clin. 2018 Mar 27:18:963-971. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2018.03.029. eCollection 2018.


The human spinal cord is a central nervous system structure that plays an important role in normal motor and sensory function, and can be affected by many debilitating neurologic diseases. Due to its clinical importance, the spinal cord is frequently the subject of imaging research. Common methods for visualizing spinal cord anatomy and pathology include histology and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), both of which have unique benefits and drawbacks. Postmortem microscopic resolution MRI of fixed specimens, sometimes referred to as magnetic resonance microscopy (MRM), combines many of the benefits inherent to both techniques. However, the elongated shape of the human spinal cord, along with hardware and scan time limitations, have restricted previous microscopic resolution MRI studies (both in vivo and ex vivo) to small sections of the cord. Here we present the first MRM dataset of the entire postmortem human spinal cord. These data include 50 μm isotropic resolution anatomic image data and 100 μm isotropic resolution diffusion data, made possible by a 280 h long multi-segment acquisition and automated image segment composition. We demonstrate the use of these data for spinal cord lesion detection, automated volumetric gray matter segmentation, and quantitative spinal cord morphometry including estimates of cross sectional dimensions and gray matter fraction throughout the length of the cord.

Keywords: Gray matter; Human; Magnetic resonance microscopy; Spinal cord; Tractography.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Gray Matter / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / methods
  • Male
  • Neuroimaging / methods
  • Spinal Cord / pathology*
  • Spinal Cord Diseases / pathology
  • White Matter / pathology*