Traumatic spinal cord injury (tSCI) causes an almost complete loss of blood flow at the site of injury (primary injury) as well as significant hypoperfusion in the penumbra of the injury. Hypoperfusion in the penumbra progresses after injury to the spinal cord and is likely to be a major contributor to progressive cell death of spinal cord tissue that was initially viable (secondary injury). Neuroprotective treatment strategies seek to limit secondary injury. Clinical monitoring of the temporal and spatial patterns of blood flow within the contused spinal cord is currently not feasible. The purpose of the current study was to determine whether ultrafast contrast-enhanced ultrasound (CEUS) Doppler allows for detection of local hemodynamic changes within an injured rodent spinal cord in real time.
A novel ultrafast CEUS Doppler technique was developed utilizing a research ultrasound platform combined with a 15-MHz linear array transducer. Ultrafast plane-wave acquisitions enabled the separation of higher-velocity blood flow in macrocirculation from low-velocity flow within the microcirculation (tissue perfusion). An FDA-approved contrast agent (microbubbles) was used for visualization of local blood flow in real time. CEUS Doppler acquisition protocols were developed to characterize tissue perfusion both during contrast inflow and during the steady-state plateau. A compression injury of the thoracic spinal cord of adult rats was induced using iris forceps.
High-frequency ultrasound enabled visualization of spinal cord vessels such as anterior spinal arteries as well as central arteries (mean diameter [± SEM] 145.8 ± 10.0 µm; 76.2 ± 4.5 µm, respectively). In the intact spinal cord, ultrafast CEUS Doppler confirmed higher perfusion of the gray matter compared to white matter. Immediately after compression injury of the thoracic rodent spinal cord, spinal cord vessels were disrupted in an area of 1.93 ± 1.14 mm2. Ultrafast CEUS Doppler revealed a topographical map of local tissue hypoperfusion with remarkable spatial resolution. Critical loss of perfusion, defined as less than 40% perfusion compared to the surrounding spared tissue, was seen within an area of 2.21 ± 0.6 mm2.
In our current report, we introduce ultrafast CEUS Doppler for monitoring of spinal vascular structure and function in real time. Development and clinical implementation of this type of imaging could have a significant impact on the care of patients with tSCI.
ABBREVIATIONSCEUS = contrast-enhanced ultrasound; SCI = spinal cord injury; SEM = standard error of the mean; tSCI = traumatic SCI.
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