Conventional MRI is routinely used to demonstrate the anatomical site of spinal cord injury (SCI). However, quantitative and qualitative imaging parameters have limited use in predicting neurological outcomes. Currently, there are no reliable neuroimaging biomarkers to predict short- and long-term outcome after SCI.
A prospective cohort of 23 patients with SCI (19 with cervical SCI [CSCI] and 4 with thoracic SCI [TSCI]) treated between 2007 and 2014 was included in the study. The American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) score was determined at the time of arrival and at 1-year follow-up. Only 15 patients (12 with CSCI and 3 with TSCI) had 1-year follow-up. Whole-cord fractional anisotropy (FA) was determined at C1–2, following which C1–2 was divided into upper, middle, and lower segments and the corresponding FA value at each of these segments was calculated. Correlation analysis was performed between FA and ASIA score at time of arrival and 1-year follow-up.
Correlation analysis showed a positive but nonsignificant correlation (p = 0.095) between FA and ASIA score for all patients (CSCI and TCSI) at the time of arrival. Additional regression analysis consisting of only patients with CSCI showed a significant correlation (p = 0.008) between FA and ASIA score at time of arrival as well as at 1-year follow-up (p = 0.025). Furthermore, in case of patients with CSCI, a significant correlation between FA value at each of the segments (upper, middle, and lower) of C1–2 and ASIA score at time of arrival was found (p = 0.017, p = 0.015, and p = 0.002, respectively).
In patients with CSCI, the measurement of diffusion anisotropy of the high cervical cord (C1–2) correlates significantly with injury severity and long-term follow-up. However, this correlation is not seen in patients with TSCI. Therefore, FA can be used as an imaging biomarker for evaluating neural injury and monitoring recovery in patients with CSCI.