Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) is an MRI tool that provides an objective, noninvasive, in vivo assessment of spinal cord injury (SCI). DTI is significantly better at visualizing microstructures than standard MRI sequences. In this imaging modality, the direction and amplitude of the diffusion of water molecules inside tissues is measured, and this diffusion can be measured using a variety of parameters. As a result, the potential clinical application of DTI has been studied in several spinal cord pathologies, including SCI. The aim of this study was to describe the current state of the potential clinical utility of DTI in patients with SCI and the challenges to its use as a tool in clinical practice.
A search in the PubMed database was conducted for articles relating to the use of DTI in SCI. The citations of relevant articles were also searched for additional articles.
Among the most common DTI metrics are fractional anisotropy, mean diffusivity, axial diffusivity, and radial diffusivity. Changes in these metrics reflect changes in tissue integrity. Several DTI metrics and combinations thereof have demonstrated significant correlations with clinical function both in model species and in humans. Its applications encompass the full spectrum of the clinical assessment of SCI including diagnosis, prognosis, recovery, and efficacy of treatments in both the spinal cord and potentially the brain.
DTI and its metrics have great potential to become a powerful clinical tool in SCI. However, the current limitations of DTI preclude its use beyond research and into clinical practice. Further studies are needed to significantly improve and resolve these limitations as well as to determine reliable time-specific changes in multiple DTI metrics for this tool to be used accurately and reliably in the clinical setting.