Disease in the spinal cord is a major component of disability in multiple sclerosis, yet current techniques of imaging spinal cord injury are insensitive and non-specific. This study seeks to remove this major impediment to research in multiple sclerosis and other spinal cord diseases by identifying reliable biomarkers of disability progression using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), a magnetic resonance imaging technique, to evaluate the spinal cord in a model of multiple sclerosis, i.e. the Theiler’s Murine Encephalitis Virus-Induced Demyelinating Disease (TMEV-IDD). Mice with TMEV-IDD with varying levels of clinical disease were imaged using a 9.4T small animal MRI scanner. Axial diffusivity, radial diffusivity, and fractional anisotropy were calculated. Disability was assessed periodically using Rotarod assay and data were expressed as a neurological function index. Correlation was performed between DTI measurements and disability scores. TMEV-IDD mice displayed significant increased neurological deficits over time when compared with controls (p<0.0001). Concurrently, the values of fractional anisotropy and axial diffusivity were both decreased compared to controls (both p<0.0001), while radial diffusivity was increased (p<0.0001). Overall, fractional anisotropy changes were larger in white matter than in grey matter and differences were more pronounced in the ventral region. Lower disability scores were associated with decreased fractional anisotropy values measured in the ventral (r = 0.68; p<0.0001) and ventral-lateral (r = 0.70; p<0.0001) regions of the white matter. These data demonstrate that DTI measures of the spinal cord contribute to strengthening the association between neuroradiological markers and clinical disability, and support the use of DTI measures in spinal cord imaging in MS patients.
This study looks at Fractional anisotropy (FA) is a scalar value between zero and one that describes the degree of anisotropy of a diffusion process. A value of zero means that diffusion is isotropic, i.e. it is unrestricted (or equally restricted) in all directions. A value of one means that diffusion occurs only along one axis and is fully restricted along all other directions.