First conclusive non-invasive measurement technique in the spinal cord

08/08/2014
Graphic: spine in human body

The technique may aid efforts to help patients recover from spinal cord injuries and other disorders affecting spinal cord function, including multiple sclerosis; © Wavebreakmedia ltd/ panthermedia.net

Researchers in the Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science (VUIIS) have achieved the first conclusive non-invasive measurement of neural signaling in the spinal cords of healthy human volunteers. Their technique may aid efforts to help patients recover from spinal cord injuries and other disorders affecting spinal cord function, including multiple sclerosis.

"We definitely hope that this work can be translated to address many neurological disorders," said Dr. Robert Barry.

The researchers used ultra-high field functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to detect for the first time "resting state" signals between neural circuits in the human spinal column. These signals are continuously active, not in response to external stimuli.

"We see these background resting circuits as being inherent measures of function," said Gore.

The technique may be valuable for understanding how spinal cord injury changes the "functional connectivity" between neural circuits, for example, and for assessing and monitoring recovery that occurs spontaneously or following various interventions.

"The hope is that when you have impaired function that there will be changes (in the signals)," Gore said. "We've already got evidence for that from other studies."

Studies of the "resting" brain reveal how neural circuits coordinate to control various functions and to produce different behaviors. The spinal cord has been more difficult to study because it is much smaller than the brain, and conventional fMRI isn't sensitive enough to pick up its signals.

The Vanderbilt team overcame this challenge by using an fMRI scanner with a 7 Tesla magnet, multichannel spinal cord coils, and advanced methods for acquiring and analyzing the images. One Tesla is roughly 20,000 times the strength of the magnetic field of the earth.

COMPAMED.de; Source: Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science (VUIIS)