Understanding the mechanisms of atrophy associated with spinal cord injury: the application of MRI-based in vivo histology and ex vivo histology


In the interest of advancing translational SCI research more refined diagnostic tools to assess the condition of the spinal cord and brain are required. Both the detrimental effects of the immediate injury (primary damage) and consecutive inflammatory cascades (secondary damage) eventually resulting in cell apoptosis and demyelination or structural changes related to neural plasticity so far cannot be revealed by current techniques of MRI. Emerging improvements in imaging techniques - by optimizing MRI sequences, post-processing methods and development of biophysical models – are becoming available which aims to produce measurements directly related to tissue microstructure with high diagnostic and research value. This projects aims to investigate the underlying mechanisms reflecting sensorimotor system atrophy and cortical plasticity in SCI patients using biological readouts of myelin and fibre densities as well as the g-ratio based on multiple MRI contrasts for estimating spinal and cortical microstructure. To cross-validate these in-vivo findings, we apply ex-vivo ultra-high resolution imaging at the scale of cortical layers and spinal columns in a preclinical model of SCI and assess its validation by comparing multiple structural measures in vivo with ex-vivo histology (axonal loss, myelin thinning and microglia de- and re-generation). These pioneering studies are the first step towards clinical utilization of in vivo histology using MRI (hMRI).


Imaging techniques, in vivo histology using MRI, acute SCI, preclinical SCI, Validation

Call topic

External Insults

Proposed runtime

2017 - 2021

Project team

Armin Curt (Coordinator)
Switzerland (SNSF)
Jan Klohs
Switzerland (SNSF)
Siawoosh Mohammadi
Germany (BMBF)
Martina Callaghan
United Kingdom (MRC)
Nikolaus Weiskopf
Germany (BMBF)
Pawel Tabakov
Poland (NCBR)