Methylprednisolone (MP) to treat acute traumatic spinal cord injury (ATSCI) remains controversial since the release of the second National Acute Spinal Cord Injury Study (NASCIS2) in 1990. As two historical studies, NASCIS2 and Sygen in ATSCI, used identical MP dosages, it was possible to construct a new case-level pooled ATSCI data set satisfying contemporary criteria and able to clarify the effect of MP.
The new pooled data set was first modernized by excluding patients with injury levels caudal to T10, lower-extremity American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) motor scores (LEMSs) ≥ 46, Glasgow Coma Scale scores ≤ 11, and age < 15 or > 75 years, and then standardized to the ASIA grading and scoring format. A new updated NASCIS2 data set from this pooled data set contained 31.6% fewer patients than the 1990 NASCIS2 data set.
In the new pooled data set, recovery of LEMSs from baseline to 26 weeks, the primary outcome variable, was separated statistically into five different injury severity cohorts (p < 0.0001). The severity cohorts contained groups with severe floor (62.9%) and ceiling (10.7%) effects, which do not contribute to drug effects. The new NASCIS2 data set duplicated the p value for MP versus placebo in the sub-subgroup analysis of MP initiated ≤ 8 hours (the subgroup) and recovery of motor function on only the right side of the body (a further subgroup within the ≤ 8-hour subgroup), presented as the positive MP effect in the original NASCIS2 reporting. However, current statistical interpretation considers results seen only in post hoc sub-subgroups, without multi-test corrections, to be random effects without clinical significance. The combined case-level pooled data set from the NASCIS2 and Sygen studies increased the MP group from 106 to 431 patients, creating a new MP combined group. This new data set served as a surrogate for a contemporary MP study and found that administration of MP did not enhance ASIA motor score improvement in the lower extremities at 26 weeks. Secondary analysis of descending ASIA motor and sensory cervical neurological levels in cervical ATSCI patients at 26 weeks also found no MP drug effect.
Analysis of both the new updated NASCIS2 data set and the new case-matched pooled data set from two historical ATSCI studies revealed that administration of MP after spinal cord injury did not demonstrate any enhancement in neurological recovery at 26 weeks. The results of this analysis warrant review by clinical guideline groups.