Diffusion tensor imaging shows mechanism-specific differences in injury pattern and progression in rat models of acute spinal cord injury
Yung A, Mattucci S, Bohnet B, Liu J, Fournier C, Tetzlaff W, Kozlowski P, Oxland T.
We investigate the ability of diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to distinguish between three experimental rat models of spinal cord injury mechanism - contusion, dislocation, and distraction. Ex vivo DTI scans were performed on cord specimens that were preserved at different time points of the acute injury (3 hr, 24 hr, and 7 days post-injury) across all three injury mechanisms. White matter was classified as abnormal if their DTI metric was substantially different from regional values measured from a set of uninjured controls, thus allowing generation of binary "white matter damage maps" which categorizes each pixel in the DTI image as "normal" or "damaged". Damage classification was most robust using thresholds in the longitudinal diffusivity, which supports previous studies that show that longitudinal diffusivity is the most robust DTI metric in depicting damage in SCI. Furthermore, the spatial damage patterns from all subjects in the same group were consolidated into a "damage occurrence ratio map", which illustrates an average damage shape that characterizes the injury mechanism. Our analysis has yielded a dataset which highlights the differences in injury pattern due to the initial mode of mechanical injury. For example, contusion produced an initial injury that emanated radially outward from the central canal, with subsequent damage along the caudal corticospinal tract and rostral gracile fasciculus; dislocation injuries showed a high level of involvement in the lateral and ventral white matter which became less apparent by 7 days post-injury, and distraction injuries were found to be less focal and more distributed rostrocaudally. This work represents a first step in adopting the use of the primary injury mechanism as a clinical prognostic factor in SCI, which may help to inform the trialing of existing neuroprotective treatment candidates, the development of new therapies as well as personalize the management of SCI for the individual patient.