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Elizabeth Le, Bizhan Aarabi, David S. Hersh, Kathirkamanthan Shanmuganathan, Cara Diaz, Jennifer Massetti and Noori Akhtar-Danesh


Studies of preclinical spinal cord injury (SCI) in rodents indicate that expansion of intramedullary lesions (IMLs) seen on MR images may be amenable to neuroprotection. In patients with subaxial SCI and motor-complete American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) Impairment Scale (AIS) Grade A or B, IML expansion has been shown to be approximately 900 μm/hour. In this study, the authors investigated IML expansion in a cohort of patients with subaxial SCI and AIS Grade A, B, C, or D.


Seventy-eight patients who had at least 2 MRI scans within 6 days of SCI were enrolled. Data were analyzed by regression analysis.


In this cohort, the mean age was 45.3 years (SD 18.3 years), 73 patients were injured in a motor vehicle crash, from a fall, or in sport activities, and 77% of them were men. The mean Injury Severity Score (ISS) was 26.7 (SD 16.7), and the AIS grade was A in 23 patients, B in 7, C in 7, and D in 41. The mechanism of injury was distraction in 26 patients, compression in 22, disc/osteophyte complex in 29, and Chance fracture in 1. The mean time between injury onset and the first MRI scan (Interval 1) was 10 hours (SD 8.7 hours), and the mean time to the second MRI scan (Interval 2) was 60 hours (SD 29.6 hours). The mean IML lengths of the first and second MR images were 38.8 mm (SD 20.4 mm) and 51 mm (SD 36.5 mm), respectively. The mean time from the first to the second MRI scan (Interval 3) was 49.9 hours (SD 28.4 hours), and the difference in IML lengths was 12.6 mm (SD 20.7 mm), reflecting an expansion rate of 366 μm/ hour (SD 710 μm/hour). IML expansion in patients with AIS Grades A and B was 918 μm/hour (SD 828 μm/hour), and for those with AIS Grades C and D, it was 21 μm/hour (SD 304 μm/hour). Univariate analysis indicated that AIS Grade A or B versus Grades C or D (p < 0.0001), traction (p= 0.0005), injury morphology (p < 0.005), the surgical approach (p= 0.009), vertebral artery injury (p= 0.02), age (p < 0.05), ISS (p < 0.05), ASIA motor score (p < 0.05), and time to decompression (p < 0.05) were all predictors of lesion expansion. In multiple regression analysis, however, the sole determinant of IML expansion was AIS grade (p < 0.005).


After traumatic subaxial cervical spine or spinal cord injury, patients with motor-complete injury (AIS Grade A or B) had a significantly higher rate of IML expansion than those with motor-incomplete injury (AIS Grade C or D).

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Bizhan Aarabi, J. Marc Simard, Joseph A. Kufera, Melvin Alexander, Katie M. Zacherl, Stuart E. Mirvis, Kathirkamanthan Shanmuganathan, Gary Schwartzbauer, Christopher M. Maulucci, Justin Slavin, Khawar Ali, Jennifer Massetti and Howard M. Eisenberg


The authors performed a study to determine if lesion expansion occurs in humans during the early hours after spinal cord injury (SCI), as has been established in rodent models of SCI, and to identify factors that might predict lesion expansion.


The authors studied 42 patients with acute cervical SCI and admission American Spinal Injury Association Impairment Scale Grades A (35 patients) and B (7 patients) in whom 2 consecutive MRI scans were obtained 3–134 hours after trauma. They recorded demographic data, clinical information, Injury Severity Score (ISS), admission MRI-documented spinal canal and cord characteristics, and management strategies.


The characteristics of the cohort were as follows: male/female ratio 37:5; mean age, 34.6 years; and cause of injury, motor vehicle collision, falls, and sport injuries in 40 of 42 cases. The first MRI study was performed 6.8 ±2.7 hours (mean ± SD) after injury, and the second was performed 54.5 ± 32.3 hours after injury. The rostrocaudal intramedullary length of the lesion on the first MRI scan was 59.2 ± 16.1 mm, whereas its length on the second was 88.5 ± 31.9 mm. The principal factors associated with lesion length on the first MRI study were the time between injury and imaging (p = 0.05) and the time to decompression (p = 0.03). The lesion's rate of rostrocaudal intramedullary expansion in the interval between the first and second MRI was 0.9 ± 0.8 mm/hour. The principal factors associated with the rate of expansion were the maximum spinal cord compression (p = 0.03) and the mechanism of injury (p = 0.05).


Spinal cord injury in humans is characterized by lesion expansion during the hours following trauma. Lesion expansion has a positive relationship with spinal cord compression and may be mitigated by early surgical decompression. Lesion expansion may be a novel surrogate measure by which to assess therapeutic effects in surgical or drug trials.