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AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 2008 Nov;29(10):1976-82. doi: 10.3174/ajnr.A1272. Epub 2008 Aug 21.

Diffusion tensor MR imaging in chronic spinal cord injury.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Engineering, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wis, USA.



Diffusion tensor MR imaging is emerging as an important tool for displaying anatomic changes in the brain after injury or disease but has been less widely applied to disorders of the spinal cord. The aim of this study was to characterize the diffusion properties of the entire human spinal cord in vivo during the chronic stages of spinal cord injury (SCI). These data provide insight into the structural changes that occur as a result of long-term recovery from spinal trauma.


Thirteen neurologically intact subjects and 10 subjects with chronic SCI (>4 years postinjury) were enrolled in this study. A single-shot twice-refocused spin-echo diffusion-weighted echo-planar imaging pulse sequence was used to obtain axial images throughout the entire spinal cord (C1-L1) in <60 minutes.


Despite heterogeneity in SCI lesion severity and location, diffusion characteristics of the chronic lesion were significantly elevated compared with those of uninjured controls. Fractional anisotropy was significantly lower at the chronic lesion and appeared dependent on the completeness of the injury. Conversely, mean diffusivity measurements in the upper cervical spinal cord in subjects with SCI were significantly lower than those in controls. These trends suggest that the entire neuraxis may be affected by long-term recovery from spinal trauma.


These results suggest that diffusion tensor imaging may be useful in the assessment of SCI recovery.

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