MRI in traumatic spinal cord injury: from clinical assessment to neuroimaging biomarkers

Patrick Freund, Maryam Seif, Nikolaus Weiskopf, Karl Friston, Michael G Fehlings, Alan J Thompson, Armin Curt
Lancet Neurology 2019, 18 (12): 1123-1135
Traumatic spinal cord injury occurs when an external physical impact damages the spinal cord and leads to permanent neurological dysfunction and disability, and it is associated with a high socioeconomic burden. Conventional MRI plays a crucial role in the diagnostic workup as it reveals extrinsic compression of the spinal cord and disruption of the discoligamentous complex. Additionally, it can reveal macrostructural evidence of primary intramedullary damage such as haemorrhage, oedema, post-traumatic cystic cavities, and tissue bridges. Quantitative MRI, such as magnetisation transfer, magnetic resonance relaxation mapping, and diffusion imaging, enables the tracking of secondary changes across the neuraxis at the microstructural level. Both conventional MRI and quantitative MRI metrics, obtained early after spinal cord injury, are predictive of clinical outcome. Thus, neuroimaging biomarkers could serve as surrogate endpoints for more efficient future trials targeting acute and chronic spinal cord injury. The adoption of neuroimaging biomarkers in centres for spinal cord injury might lead to personalised patient care.

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