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Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provides a noninvasive method of monitoring the pathologic response to spinal cord injury. Specific MR signal intensity patterns appear to correlate with degrees of improvement in the neurologic status in spinal cord injury patients. Histologic correlation of two types of MR signal intensity patterns are confirmed in the current study using a rat animal model. Adult male Sprague-Dawley rats underwent spinal cord trauma at the midthoracic level using a weight-dropping technique. After laminectomy, 5- and 10-gm brass weights were dropped from designated heights onto a 0.1-gm impounder placed on the exposed dura. Animals allowed to regain consciousness demonstrated variable recovery of hind limb paraplegia. Magnetic resonance images were obtained from 2 hours to 1 week after injury using a 2-tesla MRI/spectrometer. Sacrifice under anesthesia was performed by perfusive fixation; spinal columns were excised en bloc, embedded, sectioned, and observed with the compound light microscope. Magnetic resonance axial images obtained during the time sequence after injury demonstrate a distinct correlation between MR signal intensity patterns and the histologic appearance of the spinal cord. Magnetic resonance imaging delineates the pathologic processes resulting from acute spinal cord injury and can be used to differentiate the type of injury and prognosis.