Differences in Cortical Gray Matter Atrophy of Paraplegia and Tetraplegia after Complete Spinal Cord Injury

Keerthana Deepti Karunakaran, Jie He, Jian Zhao, Jian Ling Cui, Yu Feng Zang, Zhong Zhang, Bharat B. Biswal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Anatomical studies of spinal cord injury (SCI) using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) report diverging observations, from "no changes" to "tissue atrophy in motor and non-motor regions." These discrepancies among studies can be attributed to heterogeneity in extent, level, and post-injury duration observed within the SCI population. But, no studies have investigated structural changes associated with different levels of injury (paraplegia vs. tetraplegia). High-resolution MRI images were processed using a voxel-based morphometry technique to compare regional gray matter volume (GMV) between 16 complete paraplegia and 7 complete tetraplegia SCI subjects scanned within 2 years of injury when compared to 22 age-matched healthy controls using one-way analysis of covariance (ANCOVA). A post-hoc analysis using a region of interest-based approach was utilized to quantify GMV differences between healthy controls and subgroups of SCI. A voxel-wise one-sample t-test was also performed to evaluate the mean effect of post-injury duration on GMV of the SCI group. ANCOVA resulted in altered GMV in inferior frontal gyrus, bilateral mid orbital gyrus extending to rectal gyrus, and anterior cingulate cortex. Post-hoc analysis, in general, indicated GM atrophy after SCI, but tetraplegia showed a greater decrease in GMV when compared to paraplegia and healthy controls. Further, the GMV of the middle frontal gyrus, superior frontal gyrus, inferior frontal gyrus, insula, mid-orbital gyrus, and middle temporal gyrus was positively correlated with post-injury duration in both paraplegia and tetraplegia groups. GM atrophy after SCI is affected by level of cord injury, with higher levels of injury resulting in greater loss of GMV. Magnitude of GMV loss in the frontal cortex after SCI also appears to be dynamic within the first 2 years of injury. Understanding the effect of injury level and injury duration on structural changes after SCI can help to better understand the mechanisms leading to positive and negative clinical outcome in SCI patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2045-2051
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Neurotrauma
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 15 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Neurology


  • MRI
  • VBM
  • pain
  • paraplegia
  • spinal cord injury
  • tetraplegia


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