What are the gray and white matter volumes of the human spinal cord?

J Neurophysiol. 2020 Dec 1;124(6):1792-1797. doi: 10.1152/jn.00413.2020. Epub 2020 Oct 21.


The gray matter of the spinal cord is the seat of somata of various types of neurons devoted to the sensory and motor activities of the limbs and trunk as well as a part of the autonomic nervous system. The volume of the spinal gray matter is an indicator of the local neuronal processing, and this can decrease due to atrophy associated with degenerative diseases and injury. Nevertheless, the absolute volume of the human spinal cord has rarely been reported, if ever. Here, we use high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging, with a cross-sectional resolution of 50 × 50 μm and a voxel size of 0.0005 mm3 to estimate the total gray and white matter volume of a post mortem human female spinal cord. Segregation of gray and white matter was accomplished using deep learning image segmentation. Furthermore, we include data from a male spinal cord of a previously published study. The gray and white matter volumes were found to be 2.87 and 11.33 mL, respectively, for the female and 3.55 and 19.33 mL, respectively, for the male. The gray and white matter profiles along the vertebral axis were found to be strikingly similar, and the volumes of the cervical, thoracic, and lumbosacral sections were almost equal.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Here, we combine high-field MRI (9.4 T) and deep learning for a post mortem reconstruction of the gray and white matter in human spinal cords. We report a minuscule total gray matter volume of 2.87 mL for a female and 3.55 mL for a male. For comparison, these volumes correspond approximately to the distal digit of the little finger.

Keywords: MRI; gray matter; human; spinal cord; substantia grisea; volume.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Deep Learning
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / anatomy & histology*
  • Gray Matter / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuroimaging / methods
  • Spinal Cord / anatomy & histology*
  • Spinal Cord / diagnostic imaging
  • White Matter / anatomy & histology*
  • White Matter / diagnostic imaging