Guidelines for the conduct of clinical trials in spinal cord injury: Neuroimaging biomarkers

Spinal Cord. 2019 Sep;57(9):717-728. doi: 10.1038/s41393-019-0309-x. Epub 2019 Jul 2.


Traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) leads to immediate neuronal and axonal damage at the focal injury site and triggers secondary pathologic series of events resulting in sensorimotor and autonomic dysfunction below the level of injury. Although there is no cure for SCI, neuroprotective and regenerative therapies show promising results at the preclinical stage. There is a pressing need to develop non-invasive outcome measures that can indicate whether a candidate therapeutic agent or a cocktail of therapeutic agents are positively altering the underlying disease processes. Recent conventional MRI studies have quantified spinal cord lesion characteristics and elucidated their relationship between severity of injury to clinical impairment and recovery. Next to the quantification of the primary cord damage, quantitative MRI measures of spinal cord (rostrocaudally to the lesion site) and brain integrity have demonstrated progressive and specific neurodegeneration of afferent and efferent neuronal pathways. MRI could therefore play a key role to ultimately uncover the relationship between clinical impairment/recovery and injury-induced neurodegenerative changes in the spinal cord and brain. Moreover, neuroimaging biomarkers hold promises to improve clinical trial design and efficiency through better patient stratification. The purpose of this narrative review is therefore to propose a guideline of clinically available MRI sequences and their derived neuroimaging biomarkers that have the potential to assess tissue damage at the macro- and microstructural level after SCI. In this piece, we make a recommendation for the use of key MRI sequences-both conventional and advanced-for clinical work-up and clinical trials.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / methods
  • Clinical Trials as Topic / standards*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / standards*
  • Neuroimaging / methods
  • Neuroimaging / standards
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic / standards*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / diagnostic imaging*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / epidemiology