Non‐myelopathic degenerative cervical spinal cord compression (NMDC) frequently occurs throughout aging and may progress to potentially irreversible degenerative cervical myelopathy (DCM). Whereas standard clinical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and electrophysiological measures assess compression severity and neurological dysfunction, respectively, underlying microstructural deficits still have to be established in NMDC and DCM patients. The study aims to establish tract‐specific diffusion MRI markers of electrophysiological deficits to predict the progression of asymptomatic NMDC to symptomatic DCM.
High‐resolution 3 T diffusion MRI was acquired for 103 NMDC and 21 DCM patients compared to 60 healthy controls to reveal diffusion alterations and relationships between tract‐specific diffusion metrics and corresponding electrophysiological measures and compression severity. Relationship between the degree of DCM disability, assessed by the modified Japanese Orthopaedic Association scale, and tract‐specific microstructural changes in DCM patients was also explored.
The study identified diffusion‐derived abnormalities in the gray matter, dorsal and lateral tracts congruent with trans‐synaptic degeneration and demyelination in chronic degenerative spinal cord compression with more profound alterations in DCM than NMDC. Diffusion metrics were affected in the C3‐6 area as well as above the compression level at C3 with more profound rostral deficits in DCM than NMDC. Alterations in lateral motor and dorsal sensory tracts correlated with motor and sensory evoked potentials, respectively, whereas electromyography outcomes corresponded with gray matter microstructure. DCM disability corresponded with microstructure alteration in lateral columns.
Outcomes imply the necessity of high‐resolution tract‐specific diffusion MRI for monitoring degenerative spinal pathology in longitudinal studies.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.