The human motor cortex after incomplete spinal cord injury: an investigation using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy

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Abstract

Objectives

(1) A biochemical investigation of the motor cortex in patients with incomplete spinal cord injury and normal control subjects using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS). (2) To relate any altered biochemistry with the physiological changes in corticospinal function seen after spinal cord injury.

Methods

a group of six patients with incomplete spinal cord injury who showed good recovery of motor function were selected. The patients were compared with five healthy control subjects. Electromyographic (EMG) responses of thenar muscles to transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) of the motor cortex showed that inhibition of cortical output was weaker in the patients than the controls. Proton MRS data were collected from a plane at the level of the centrum semiovale. Two 4.5 cm3 voxels in the motor cortex and a third voxel in the ipsilateral occipital cortex were examined in the patients and control subjects.

Results

The mean level of N-acetylaspartate (NAA), expressed relative to the creatine (Cr) peak (NAA/Cr), was significantly increased in the motor cortex of the patients compared with their ipsilateral occipital cortex or either cortical area in the controls. No differences between patients and controls were seen for any of the other metabolite peaks (choline (Cho), glutamate/glutamine (Glx) or the aspartate component of NAA (AspNAA)) relative to Cr. Choline relative to Cr (Cho/Cr) was higher in the motor cortex of the control subjects than in their ipsilateral occipital cortex. This difference was not present in the patients.

Conclusions

Raised NAA/Cr in the motor cortex of the patients probably results from increased NAA rather than a decrease in the more stable Cr. The possible relevance of a raised NAA/Cr ratio is discussed, particularly with regard to the change corticospinal physiology and the functional recovery seen in the patients.

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