Can MRI reveal lower motor neuron damage after traumatic spinal cord injury? A scoping review

J Moneo, Kip Kramer, Tom E. Nightingale, Michael Berger*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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Restoring muscle function to patients with spinal cord injuries (SCIs) will invariably require a functioning lower motor neuron (LMN). As techniques such as nerve transfer surgery emerge, characterizing the extent of LMN damage associated with SCIs becomes clinically important. Current methods of LMN diagnosis have inherent limitations that could potentially be overcome by the development of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) biomarkers: specific features on MRI that are indicative of LMN integrity. To identify research on MRI biomarkers of LMN damage in the acute phase after SCI, we searched PubMed, EMBASE, MEDLINE, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials for articles published from inception to April 27, 2021. Overall, 2 of 58 unique articles screened met our inclusion criteria, both of which were small studies. We therefore identify MRI biomarkers of LMN damage overlying SCI as a notable gap in the literature. Because of the lack of existing literature on this specific problem, we further our discussion by examining concepts explored in research characterizing MRI biomarkers of spinal cord and neuronal damage in different contexts that may provide value in future work to identify a biomarker for LMN damage in SCI. We conclude that MRI biomarkers of LMN damage in SCI is an underexplored, but promising, area of research as emerging, function-restoring therapies requiring this information continue to advance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)541-547
Number of pages7
JournalNeurotrauma Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 29 Nov 2021


  • diffusion tensor imaging
  • lower motor neuron
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • nerve transfer surgery
  • spinal cord injury


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