Nat Rev Neurol, Jan 2021

The neuroanatomical-functional paradox in spinal cord injury

Karim Fouad, Phillip G Popovich, Marcel A Kopp, Jan M Schwab


Although lesion size is widely considered to be the most reliable predictor of outcome after CNS injury, lesions of comparable size can produce vastly different magnitudes of functional impairment and subsequent recovery. This neuroanatomical-functional paradox is likely to contribute to the many failed attempts to independently replicate findings from animal models of neurotrauma. In humans, the analogous clinical-radiological paradox could explain why individuals with similar injuries can respond differently to rehabilitation. We describe the neuroanatomical-functional paradox in the context of traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) and discuss the underlying mechanisms of the paradox, including the concepts of lesion-affected and recovery-related networks. We also consider the various secondary complications that further limit the accuracy of outcome prediction in SCI and provide suggestions for how to increase the predictive, translational value of preclinical SCI models.


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