Diffusion tensor imaging at 3 hours after traumatic spinal cord injury predicts long-term locomotor recovery

Joong H. Kim, David N. Loy, Qing Wang, Matthew D. Budde, Robert E. Schmidt, Kathryn Trinkaus, Sheng Kwei Song

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Scopus citations


Accurate diagnosis of spinal cord injury (SCI) severity must be achieved before highly aggressive experimental therapies can be tested responsibly in the early phases after trauma. These studies demonstrate for the first time that axial diffusivity (λ||), derived from diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) within 3h after SCI, accurately predicts long-term locomotor behavioral recovery in mice. Female C57BL/6 mice underwent sham laminectomy or graded contusive spinal cord injuries at the T9 vertebral level (5 groups, n=8 for each group). In-vivo DTI examinations were performed immediately after SCI. Longitudinal measurements of hindlimb locomotor recovery were obtained using the Basso mouse scale (BMS). Injured and spared regions of ventrolateral white matter (VLWM) were reliably separated in the hyperacute phase by threshold segmentation. Measurements of λ|| were compared with histology in the hyperacute phase and 14 days after injury. The spared normal VLWM determined by hyperacute λ|| and 14-day histology correlated well (r=0.95). A strong correlation between hindlimb locomotor function recovery and λ||-determined spared normal VLWM was also observed. The odds of significant locomotor recovery increased by 18% with each 1% increase in normal VLWM measured in the hyperacute phase (odds ratio=1.18, p=0.037). The capability of measuring subclinical changes in spinal cord physiology and murine genetic advantages offer an early window into the basic mechanisms of SCI that was not previously possible. Although significant obstacles must still be overcome to derive similar data in human patients, the path to clinical translation is foreseeable and achievable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)587-598
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of neurotrauma
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2010


  • Axial diffusion
  • Diffusion tensor imaging
  • Hyperacute
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Recovery
  • Spinal cord injury


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