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Benjamin M. Ellingson, Brian D. Schmit and Shekar N. Kurpad


Using diffusion tensor MR imaging, the authors conducted a study to explore lesion growth and degeneration patterns, from the acute through chronic stages of spinal cord injury (SCI), in an experimental animal model.


In vivo and ex vivo diffusion tensor imaging was performed using a 9.4-T MR imaging system in rats allowed to recover from traumatic contusion SCI from 2 weeks through 25 weeks postinjury, mimicking progression of human SCI from the acute through chronic stages.


Results showed significant growth of the traumatic lesion up to 15 weeks postinjury, where both the size and mean diffusivity (MD) reached a maximum that was maintained through the remainder of recovery. Mean diffusivity was sensitive to overall spinal cord integrity, whereas fractional anisotropy showed specificity to sites of cavity formation. The use of an MD contour map for in vivo data and a 3D surface map for ex vivo data, showing MD as a function of rostral-caudal distance and recovery time, allowed documentation of rostral and caudal spreading of the lesion.


Results from this study demonstrate changes in both lesion morphology and diffusivity beyond previously reported time points and provide a unique perspective on the process of cavity formation and degeneration following traumatic SCI. Additionally, results suggest that MD more accurately defines regions of histological damage than do regions of T2 signal hyperintensity. This could have significant clinical implications in the detection and potential treatment of posttraumatic syringes in SCI.

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Michael B. Jirjis, Chris Valdez, Aditya Vedantam, Brian D. Schmit and Shekar N. Kurpad


The aims of this study were to determine if the morphological and functional changes induced by neural stem cell (NSC) grafts after transplantation into the rodent spinal cord can be detected using MR diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and, furthermore, if the DTI-derived mean diffusivity (MD) metric could be a biomarker for cell transplantation in spinal cord injury (SCI).


A spinal contusion was produced at the T-8 vertebral level in 40 Sprague Dawley rats that were separated into 4 groups, including a sham group (injury without NSC injection), NSC control group (injury with saline injection), co-injection control group (injury with Prograf), and the experimental group (injury with NSC and Prograf injection). The NSC injection was completed 1 week after injury into the site of injury and the rats in the experimental group were compared to the rats from the sham, NSC control, and co-injection groups. The DTI index, MD, was assessed in vivo at 2, 5, and 10 weeks and ex vivo at 10 weeks postinjury on a 9.4-T Bruker scanner using a spin-echo imaging sequence. DTI data of the cervical spinal cord from the sham surgery, injury with saline injection, injury with injection of Prograf only, and injury with C17.2 NSC and Prograf injection were examined to evaluate if cellular proliferation induced by intrathoracic C17.2 engraftment was detectable in a noninvasive manner.


At 5 weeks after injury, the average fractional anisotropy, longitudinal diffusion (LD) and radial diffusion (RD) coefficients, and MD of water (average of the RD and LD eigenvalues in the stem cell line–treated group) increased to an average of 1.44 × 10−3 sec/mm2 in the cervical segments, while the control groups averaged 0.98 × 10−3 s/mm2. Post hoc Tukey's honest significant difference tests demonstrated that the transplanted stem cells had significantly higher MD values than the other groups (p = 0.032 at 5 weeks). In vivo and ex vivo findings at 10 weeks displayed similar results. This statistical difference between the stem cell line and the other groups was maintained at the 10-week postinjury in vivo and ex vivo time points.


These results indicate that the DTI-derived MD metric collected from noninvasive imaging techniques may provide useful biomarker indices for transplantation interventions that produce changes in the spinal cord structure and function. Though promising, the results demonstrated here suggest additional work is needed before implementation in a clinical setting.

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Saman Shabani, Mayank Kaushal, Matthew Budde and Shekar N. Kurpad


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.