Feasibility of postoperative diffusion-weighted imaging to assess representations of spinal cord microstructure in cervical spondylotic myelopathy

Justin K. Zhang, Saad Javeed, Jacob K. Greenberg, Kathleen S. Botterbush, Braeden Benedict, Jacob Blum, Christopher F. Dibble, Peng Sun, Sheng Kwei Song, Wilson Z. Ray

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OBJECTIVE Diffusion basis spectrum imaging (DBSI) has shown promise in evaluating cervical spinal cord structural changes in patients with cervical spondylotic myelopathy (CSM). DBSI may also be valuable in the postoperative setting by serially tracking spinal cord microstructural changes following decompressive cervical spine surgery. Currently, there is a paucity of studies investigating this topic, likely because of challenges in resolving signal distortions from spinal instrumentation. Therefore, the objective of this study was to assess the feasibility of DBSI metrics extracted from the C3 spinal level to evaluate CSM patients postoperatively. METHODS Fifty CSM patients and 20 healthy controls were enrolled in a single-center prospective study between 2018 and 2020. All patients and healthy controls underwent preoperative and postoperative diffusion-weighted MRI (dMRI) at a 2-year follow-up. All CSM patients underwent decompressive cervical surgery. The modified Japanese Orthopaedic Association (mJOA) score was used to categorize CSM patients as having mild, moderate, or severe myelopathy. DBSI metrics were extracted from the C3 spinal cord level to minimize image artifact and reduce partial volume effects. DBSI anisotropic tensors evaluated white matter tracts through fractional anisotropy, axial diffusivity, radial diffusivity, and fiber fraction. DBSI isotropic tensors assessed extra-axonal pathology through restricted and nonrestricted fractions. RESULTS Of the 50 CSM patients, both baseline and postoperative dMR images with sufficient quality for analysis were obtained in 27 patients. These included 15 patients with mild CSM (mJOA scores 15–17), 7 with moderate CSM (scores 12–14), and 5 with severe CSM (scores 0–11), who were followed up for a mean of 23.5 (SD 4.1, range 11–31) months. All preoperative C3-level DBSI measures were significantly different between CSM patients and healthy controls (p < 0.05), except DBSI fractional anisotropy (p = 0.31). At the 2-year follow-up, the same significance pattern was found between CSM patients and healthy controls, except DBSI radial diffusivity was no longer statistically significant (p = 0.75). When assessing change (i.e., postoperative − preoperative values) in C3-level DBSI measures, CSM patients exhibited significant decreases in DBSI radial diffusivity (p = 0.02), suggesting improvement in myelin integrity (i.e., remyelination) at the 2-year follow-up. Among healthy controls, there was no significant difference in DBSI metrics over time. CONCLUSIONS DBSI metrics derived from dMRI at the C3 spinal level can be used to provide meaningful insights into representations of the spinal cord microstructure of CSM patients at baseline and 2-year follow-up. DBSI may have the potential to characterize white matter tract recovery and inform outcomes following decompressive cervical surgery for CSM.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberE7
JournalNeurosurgical focus
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2023


  • cervical spondylotic myelopathy
  • diffusion-weighted imaging
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • postoperative MRI


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