Longitudinal changes of spinal cord grey and white matter following spinal cord injury

J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2021 Nov;92(11):1222-1230. doi: 10.1136/jnnp-2021-326337. Epub 2021 Aug 2.


Objectives: Traumatic and non-traumatic spinal cord injury produce neurodegeneration across the entire neuraxis. However, the spatiotemporal dynamics of spinal cord grey and white matter neurodegeneration above and below the injury is understudied.

Methods: We acquired longitudinal data from 13 traumatic and 3 non-traumatic spinal cord injury patients (8-8 cervical and thoracic cord injuries) within 1.5 years after injury and 10 healthy controls over the same period. The protocol encompassed structural and diffusion-weighted MRI rostral (C2/C3) and caudal (lumbar enlargement) to the injury level to track tissue-specific neurodegeneration. Regression models assessed group differences in the temporal evolution of tissue-specific changes and associations with clinical outcomes.

Results: At 2 months post-injury, white matter area was decreased by 8.5% and grey matter by 15.9% in the lumbar enlargement, while at C2/C3 only white matter was decreased (-9.7%). Patients had decreased cervical fractional anisotropy (FA: -11.3%) and increased radial diffusivity (+20.5%) in the dorsal column, while FA was lower in the lateral (-10.3%) and ventral columns (-9.7%) of the lumbar enlargement. White matter decreased by 0.34% and 0.35% per month at C2/C3 and lumbar enlargement, respectively, and grey matter decreased at C2/C3 by 0.70% per month.

Conclusions: This study describes the spatiotemporal dynamics of tissue-specific spinal cord neurodegeneration above and below a spinal cord injury. While above the injury, grey matter atrophy lagged initially behind white matter neurodegeneration, in the lumbar enlargement these processes progressed in parallel. Tracking trajectories of tissue-specific neurodegeneration provides valuable assessment tools for monitoring recovery and treatment effects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Atrophy / diagnostic imaging
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Spinal Cord / diagnostic imaging*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / diagnostic imaging*
  • White Matter / diagnostic imaging*