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Spine J. 2014 Jun 1;14(6):e17-22. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2013.10.050. Epub 2013 Nov 16.

Thoracic disc herniation leads to anterior spinal artery syndrome demonstrated by diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (DWI): a case report and literature review.

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  • 1Department of Internal Medicine, UMass Memorial Medical Center 55 N Lake Ave Worcester, MA 01605. Electronic address:
  • 2Department of Internal Medicine, Eastern Maine Medical Center, 489 State St, Bangor, ME 04401, USA.
  • 3Department of Radiology, Neuroradiology, Eastern Maine Medical Center, 489 State St, Bangor, ME 04401, USA.
  • 4Department of Neurology, Eastern Maine Medical Center, Clinical Assistant Professor in Neurology, University of Vermont, 489 State St, Bangor, ME 04401, USA.



Thoracic disc herniation rarely causes acute ischemic events involving the spinal cord. Few reports have suggested this as a mechanism leading to anterior spinal artery syndrome, and none with illustration through diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (DWI).


The purpose of this study was to report a case of anterior spinal artery syndrome secondary to thoracic disc herniation and demonstrate the first use of DWI to aid in diagnosis of this rare myelopathy.


Case report.


A 36-year-old woman developed sudden onset of back pain followed by evolving paraparesis and sensory loss consistent with anterior spinal artery distribution ischemia. T2-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) demonstrated an acute herniated nucleus pulposus at the T7-T8 disc, which produced a focal indentation of the adjacent anterior spinal cord without cord displacement or canal stenosis. T2-weighted hyperintensities were seen at T4-T7 levels with corresponding brightness on DWI and reduction of the apparent diffusion coefficient, consistent with cord ischemia.


Remarkably, within just a few days and following conservative treatment, including heparin and steroids, this patient's neurologic status began to show improvement. Within 3 weeks, she was ambulating with assisted devices, and at the 10-month follow-up, the patient had nearly complete neurological improvement. A follow-up MRI at 10 months showed normal T2-weighted imaging except for a 1×2-mm area of anterior-left lateral cord myelomalacia at T4-T5.


Acute thoracic disc herniation with cord contact but without canal stenosis is able to disrupt blood flow to the cord leading to anterior spinal artery distribution ischemia. This case represents the first demonstrated use of DWI in diagnosing this rare cause of anterior spinal artery ischemia.

Copyright © 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Anterior cord syndrome; Anterior spinal artery syndrome; Artery of Adamkiewicz; Diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (DWI); Spinal infarction; Thoracic disc herniation

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