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Chencai Wang, Benjamin M. Ellingson, Sabah Islam, Azim Laiwalla, Noriko Salamon, and Langston T. Holly

OBJECTIVE

The aim of this study was to investigate cerebral reorganization, both structurally and functionally, occurring in patients with degenerative cervical myelopathy (DCM) after surgical decompression.

METHODS

In the current observational study of 19 patients, high-resolution T1-weighted structural MRI and resting-state functional MRI scans were obtained pre- and postoperatively in patients with DCM and healthy controls (HCs). The resting-state functional MRI data were utilized to perform region-of-interest (ROI)–to-ROI and ROI-to-voxel functional connectivity (FC) analysis and were similarly compared between and within cohorts. Macroscopic structural plasticity was evaluated by assessing for changes in cortical thickness within the DCM cohort after decompression surgery.

RESULTS

Prior to surgery, FC patterns were significantly different between DCM patients and HCs in cerebral areas responsible for postural control, motor regulation, and perception and integration of sensory information. Significantly stronger FC between the cerebellum and frontal lobes was identified in DCM patients postoperatively compared with DCM patients preoperatively. Additionally, increased FC between the cerebellum and primary sensorimotor areas was found to be positively associated with neurological improvement in patients with DCM. No macroscopic structural changes were observed in the DCM patients after surgery.

CONCLUSIONS

These results support the authors’ hypothesis that functional changes within the brain are associated with effective postoperative recovery, particularly in regions associated with motor regulation and with perception and integration of sensory information. In particular, increased FC between the cerebellum and the primary sensorimotor after surgery appears to be associated with neurological improvement. Macroscopic morphological changes may be too subtle to be detected within 3 months after surgery.