Investigators will determine whether leading edge MRI imaging techniques in a non-human primate model of spinal cord injury can be used to predict the extent of subsequent functional recovery.
About one-half of all spinal cord injuries result in quadriplegia. Experimental evidence increasingly suggests that the central nervous system (CNS) undergoes substantial reorganization that may play a critical role in determining the degree of functional recovery that an injured patient achieves. Particularly important may be plasticity that occurs in the cortex and thalamus. Both are involved in the brain’s somatosensory system, which conveys information that the brain uses to perceive experiences such as touch and pain. Nonetheless, little is currently known about how patients’ outcomes correlate with specific changes in plasticity in these areas. This is due in part to the complexity of the research and also to limitations of investigative tools. The research group in this field at Vanderbilt is pioneering refinements in structural and functional imaging techniques to characterize the role of CNS reorganization in functional recovery. They hypothesize that severity of the spinal cord damage, and degree and spatial extent of the plasticity that occurs in the cortex and thalamus, determine the degree of functional recovery.
They will test this hypothesis using state-of-the-art imaging techniques before and after injury in the experimental animal model, and in comparison non-injured primates to determine whether high resolution MRI can monitor and quantify CNS plasticity changes in cortex and thalamus over time; and, whether Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI), which assesses injury severity, can predict the plastic changes that are observed in the pathways in these regions. If so, they will determine what plasticity changes over time correlate with deficits and recovery. They will validate their imaging findings by comparing them to those obtained through functional optical imaging of intrinsic brain signals, brain mapping through electrical recording, and analyses of the animals’ autopsied brain tissues. If the investigators find that the MRI and DTI techniques validly demonstrate an ability to identify the brain correlates of functional recovery from spinal cord injury, results will lead to, and aid in the interpretation of, this imaging in spinal cord injured patients to predict the likely extent of their recovery and responses to therapeutic interventions.