J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 80:1350-1356 doi:10.1136/jnnp.2008.167858
  • Research paper

Assessment of spinal somatosensory systems with diffusion tensor imaging in syringomyelia

  1. S M Hatem1,2,
  2. N Attal1,
  3. D Ducreux3,
  4. M Gautron1,
  5. F Parker4,
  6. L Plaghki2,
  7. D Bouhassira1
  1. 1
    INSERM—U792, CHU Ambroise Paré, APHP, Boulogne-Billancourt, France
  2. 2
    Unité de Réadaptation et de Médecine physique (READ 5375), Université catholique de Louvain, Brussels, Belgium
  3. 3
    Department of Neuroradiology, CHU Bicêtre, APHP, Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, France
  4. 4
    Department of Neurosurgery, CHU Bicêtre, APHP, Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, France
  1. Correspondence to Dr D Bouhassira, INSERM U-792, Centre d’Evaluation et de Traitement de la Douleur, Hôpital Ambroise Paré, 9 avenue Charles de Gaulle, 92100 Boulogne-Billancourt, France; didier.bouhassira{at}
  • Received 12 November 2008
  • Revised 19 May 2009
  • Accepted 3 June 2009
  • Published Online First 16 June 2009


Objective: The use of diffusion tensor imaging with three-dimensional fibre tracking (DTI-FT) was tested for the assessment of spinal sensory tract lesions. The relationships between tract lesions quantified with DTI-FT were systematically examined, and somatosensory dysfunction was assessed with quantitative sensory testing (QST) and laser-evoked potentials (LEP), in patients with syringomyelia.

Methods: 28 patients with cervical syringomyelia and thermosensory impairment of the hands, and 19 healthy volunteers, were studied. A DTI-FT of the spinal cord was performed, focusing on the upper segment (C3–C4) of the syrinx. Three-dimensional DTI-FT parameters (fractional anisotropy (FA) and apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC)) of the full, anterior and posterior spinal cord were individually compared with QST (thermal detection thresholds) and LEP (amplitude, latency and spinothalamic tract (STT) conduction time) of the hands.

Results: Patients had a significantly lower FA, but not ADC, than healthy subjects. The mean FA of the full section of the spinal cord was correlated both to sensory deficits (ie, increase in warm (rho = −0.63, p<0.010) and cold thresholds (rho = −0.72; p<0.001 of the hands)) and to changes in LEP parameters, in particular STT conduction time (rho = −0.75; p<0.010). Correlations between FA and the clinical and electrophysiological measures were higher in the anterior area (where the spinothalamic tracts are located) than in the posterior area of the spinal cord.

Conclusions: The data indicate that diffusion tensor imaging with 3D-fibre tracking is a new imaging method suitable for the objective and quantitative anatomical assessment of spinal somatosensory system dysfunction.


  • Funding This work was supported by INSERM (U-792). SMH received a research fellow funding by the FRS-FNRS (Belgium).

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval Ethics approval was provided by Hopital Ambroise Paré and Université catholique de Louvain.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Provenance and Peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

Visit the full archive of podcasts for JNNP here >>

Free sample
This recent issue is free to all users to allow everyone the opportunity to see the full scope and typical content of JNNP.
View free sample issue >>

Don't forget to sign up for content alerts so you keep up to date with all the articles as they are published.

Navigate This Article