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Dynamics of progressive degeneration of major spinal pathways following spinal cord injury: A longitudinal study

Schading, Simon; David, Gergely; Max Emmenegger, Tim; Achim, Cristian; Thompson, Alan; Weiskopf, Nikolaus; Curt, Armin; (2023) Dynamics of progressive degeneration of major spinal pathways following spinal cord injury: A longitudinal study. NeuroImage: Clinical , 37 , Article 103339. 10.1016/j.nicl.2023.103339. Green open access

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Abstract

BACKGROUND: Following spinal cord injury (SCI), disease processes spread gradually along the spinal cord forming a spatial gradient with most pronounced changes located at the lesion site. However, the dynamics of this gradient in SCI patients is not established. OBJECTIVE: This study tracks the spatiotemporal dynamics of remote anterograde and retrograde spinal tract degeneration in the upper cervical cord following SCI over two years utilizing quantitative MRI. METHODS: Twenty-three acute SCI patients (11 paraplegics, 12 tetraplegics) and 21 healthy controls were scanned with a T1-weighted sequence for volumetry and a FLASH sequence for myelin-sensitive magnetization transfer saturation (MTsat) of the upper cervical cord. We estimated myelin content from MTsat maps within the corticospinal tracts (CST) and dorsal columns (DC) and measured spinal cord atrophy by means of left-right width (LRW) and anterior-posterior width (APW) on the T1-weighted images across cervical levels C1-C3. MTsat in the CST and LRW were considered proxies for retrograde degeneration, while MTsat in the DC and APW provided evidence for anterograde degeneration, respectively. Using regression models, we compared the temporal and spatial trajectories of these MRI readouts between tetraplegics, paraplegics, and controls over a 2-year period and assessed their associations with clinical improvement. RESULTS: Linear rates and absolute differences in myelin-sensitive MTsat indicated retrograde and anterograde neurodegeneration in the CST and DC, respectively. Changes in MTsat within the CST and in LRW progressively developed over time forming a gradient towards lower cervical levels by 2 years after injury, especially in tetraplegics (change per cervical level in MTsat: -0.247 p.u./level, p = 0.034; in LRW: -0.323 mm/level, p = 0.024). MTsat within the DC was already decreased at cervical levels C1-C3 at baseline (1.5 months after injury) in both tetra- and paraplegics, while linear decreases in APW over time were similar across C1-C3, preserving the spatial gradient. The relative improvement in light touch score was associated with MTsat within the DC at baseline (rs = 0.575, p = 0.014). CONCLUSION: Rostral and remote to the injury, the CST and DC show ongoing structural changes, indicative of myelin reductions and atrophy within 2 years after SCI. While anterograde degeneration in the DC was already detectable uniformly at C1-C3 early following SCI, retrograde degeneration in the CST developed over time revealing specific spatial and temporal neurodegenerative gradients. Disentangling and quantifying such dynamic pathological processes may provide biomarkers for regenerative and remyelinating therapies along entire spinal pathways.

Type: Article
Title: Dynamics of progressive degeneration of major spinal pathways following spinal cord injury: A longitudinal study
Location: Netherlands
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1016/j.nicl.2023.103339
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nicl.2023.103339
Language: English
Additional information: © 2023 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Inc. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Keywords: Biomarker, Demyelination, Neurodegeneration, Quantitative MRI, Spinal cord injury
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology > Imaging Neuroscience
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10164904
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