In adult rats, locomotor deficits following a contusive thoracic spinal cord injury (SCI) are caused primarily by white matter loss/dysfunction at the epicenter. This loss/dysfunction decreases descending input from the brain and cervical spinal cord, and decreases ascending signals in long propriospinal, spinocerebellar and somatosensory pathways, among many others. Predicting the long-term functional consequences of a contusive injury acutely, without knowledge of the injury severity is difficult due to the temporary flaccid paralysis and loss of reflexes that accompany spinal shock. It is now well known that recovery of high quality hindlimb stepping requires only 12-15% spared white matter at the epicenter, but that forelimb-hindlimb coordination and precision stepping (grid or horizontal ladder) require substantially more trans-contusion communication. In order to translate our understanding of the neural substrates for functional recovery in the rat to the clinical arena, common outcome measures and imaging modalities are required. In the current study we furthered the exploration of one of these approaches, diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging (DTI), a technique now used commonly to image the brain in clinical research but rarely used diagnostically or prognostically for spinal cord injury. In the adult rat model of SCI, we found that hyperacute (<3h post-injury) DTI of the lateral and ventral white matter at the injury epicenter was predictive of both electrophysiological and behavioral (locomotor) recovery at 4weeks post-injury, despite the presence of flaccid paralysis/spinal shock. Regions of white matter with a minimum axial diffusivity of 1.5μm 2/ms at 3h were able to conduct action potentials at 4weeks, and axial diffusivity within the lateral funiculus was highly predictive of locomotor function at 4weeks. These observations suggest that acute DTI should be useful to provide functional predictions for spared white matter following contusive spinal cord injuries clinically.
- Diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging
- Locomotor function
- Spared white matter
- Spinal cord injury