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Magn Reson Med. 2001 Jan;45(1):1-9.

Diffusion anisotropy MRI for quantitative assessment of recovery in injured rat spinal cord.

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Department of Neurobiology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel.


Spinal cord injury and its devastating consequences are the subject of intensive research aimed at reversing or at least minimizing functional loss. Research efforts focus on either attenuating the post-injury spread of damage (secondary degeneration) or inducing some regeneration. In most of these studies, as well as in clinical situations, evaluation of the state of the injured spinal cord poses a serious difficulty. To address this problem, we carried out a diffusion-weighted MRI experiment and developed an objective routine for quantifying anisotropy in injured rat spinal cords. Rats were subjected to a contusive injury of the spinal cord caused by a controlled weight drop. Untreated control rats were compared with rats treated with T cells specific to the central nervous system self-antigen myelin basic protein, a form of therapy recently shown to be neuroprotective. After the rats were killed their excised spinal cords were fixed in formalin and imaged by multislice spin echo MRI, using two orthogonal diffusion gradients. Apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) values and anisotropy ratio (AI) maps were extracted on a pixel-by-pixel basis. The calculated sum of AI values (SAI) for each slice was defined as a parameter representing the total amount of anisotropy. The mean-AI and SAI values increased gradually with the distance from the site of the lesion. At the site itself, the mean-AI and SAI values were significantly higher in the spinal cords of the treated animals than in the controls (P = 0.047, P = 0.028, respectively). These values were consistent with the score of functional locomotion. The difference was also manifested in the AI maps, which revealed well-organized neural structure in the treated rats but not in the controls. The SAI values, AI histograms, and AI maps proved to be useful parameters for quantifying injury and recovery in an injured spinal cord. These results encourage the development of diffusion anisotropy MRI as a helpful approach for quantifying the extent of secondary degeneration and measuring recovery after spinal cord injury. Magn Reson Med 45:1-9, 2001.

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