Quantitative MRI of spinal cord injury in a rat model: Correlative studies

James Christopher Falconer, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Serial quantitative and correlative studies of experimental spinal cord injury (SCI) in rats were conducted using three-dimensional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Correlative measures included morphological histopathology, neurobehavioral measures of functional deficit, and biochemical assays for N-acetyl-aspartate (NAA), lactate, pyruvate, and ATP. A spinal cord injury device was characterized and provided a reproducible injury severity. Injuries were moderate and consistent to within $\pm$20% (standard deviation). For MRI, a three-dimensional implementation of the single spin-echo FATE (Fast optimum angle, short TE) pulse sequence was used for rapid acquisition, with a 128 x 128 x 32 (x,y,z) matrix size and a 0.21 x 0.21 x 1.5 mm resolution. These serial studies revealed a bimodal characteristic in the evolution in MRI pathology with time. Early and late phases of SCI pathology were clearly visualized in $T\sb2$-weighted MRI, and these corresponded to specific histopathological changes in the spinal cord. Centralized hypointense MRI regions correlated with evidence of hemorrhagic and necrotic tissue, while surrounding hyperintense regions represented edema or myelomalacia. Unexpectedly, $T\sb2$-weighted MRI pathology contrast at 24 hours after injury appeared to subside before peaking at 72 hours after injury. This change is likely attributable to ongoing secondary injury processes, which may alter local $T\sb2$ values or reduce the natural anisotropy of the spinal cord. MRI, functional, and histological measures all indicated that 72 hours after injury was the temporal maximum for quantitative measures of spinal cord pathology. Thereafter, significant improvement was seen only in neurobehavioral scores. Significant correlations were found between quantitated MRI pathology and histopathology. Also, NAA and lactate levels correlated with behavioral measures of the level of function deficit. Asymmetric (rostral/caudal) changes in NAA and lactate due to injury indicate that rostral and caudal segments from the injury site are affected differently by the injury. These studies indicate that volumetric quantitation of MRI pathology from $T\sb2$-weighted images may play an important role in early prediction of neurologic deficit and spinal cord pathology. The loss of $T\sb2$ contrast at 24 hours suggests MR may be able to detect certain delayed mechanisms of secondary injury which are not resolved by histopathology or other radiological modalities. Furthermore, in vivo proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) studies of SCI may provide a valuable addition source of information about changes in regional spinal cord lactate and NAA levels, which are indicative of local metabolic and pathological changes.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Falconer, James Christopher, "Quantitative MRI of spinal cord injury in a rat model: Correlative studies" (1994). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9512227.