Cervical Cord Neurodegeneration in Traumatic and Non-Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury

J Neurotrauma. 2020 Mar 15;37(6):860-867. doi: 10.1089/neu.2019.6694. Epub 2019 Nov 8.


This study aimed to compare macrostructural and microstructural neurodegenerative changes remote from a cervical spinal cord injury in traumatic spinal cord injury (tSCI) and degenerative cervical myelopathy (DCM) patients using quantitative magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Twenty-nine tSCI patients, 20 mild/moderate DCM patients, and 22 healthy controls underwent a high-resolution MRI protocol at the cervical cord (C2/C3). High-resolution T2*-weighted and diffusion-weighted scans provided data to calculate tissue-specific cross-sectional areas of the spinal cord and tract-specific diffusion indices of cord white matter, respectively. Regression analysis determined associations between neurodegeneration and clinical impairment. tSCI patients showed more impairment in upper limb strength and manual dexterity when compared with DCM patients. While macrostructural MRI measures revealed a similar extent of remote cord atrophy at cervical level, microstructural measures (diffusion indices) were able to distinguish more pronounced tract-specific neurodegeneration in tSCI patients when compared with DCM patients. Tract-specific neurodegeneration was associated with upper limb impairment. Despite clinical differences between severely impaired tSCI compared with mildly affected DCM patient, extensive cord atrophy is present remotely from the focal spinal cord injury. Diffusion indices revealed greater tract-specific alterations in tSCI patients. Therefore, diffusion indices are more sensitive than macrostructural MRI measures as these are able to distinguish between traumatic and non-traumatic spinal cord injury. Neuroimaging biomarkers of cervical cord integrity hold potential as predictors of recovery and might be suitable biomarkers for interventional trials both in traumatic and non-traumatic SCI.

Keywords: DCM; DTI; biomarker; quantitative MRI; traumatic SCI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Cervical Cord / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cervical Cord / injuries
  • Cervical Cord / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / metabolism*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / diagnostic imaging*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / metabolism*


  • Biomarkers