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Age-related diffusion patterns in human lumbar intervertebral discs: a pilot study in asymptomatic subjects

Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.mri.2011.09.021
  • Intervertebral Disc
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Histogram Analysis
  • Age-Related Degenerative Disc Change


Abstract Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) may provide an accurate noninvasive method of detecting degenerative matrix alterations in human lumbar intervertebral discs (IVDs). This study aimed to investigate age-related degenerative changes in human lumbar IVDs using DTI. Thirty asymptomatic volunteers ranging in age from 25 to 67 years underwent single-shot diffusion weighted echo-planar imaging on a 3 T scanner. DTI-derived metrics including fractional anisotropy (FA) and mean diffusivity (MD) were analyzed by a histogram analysis method. A Mann–Whitney test was used to compare subject groups (young and elderly) with respect to the diffusion measures, and piecewise linear regression was used to characterize the change in each metric as a function of age. We found significant age-related changes in the elderly adult group, with decrease of MD (11%, P<.001) and increase of FA (20%, P<.001). Our results demonstrate that the degenerative-related changes taking place in the IVDs through aging can be quantitatively accessed by DTI-derived metrics, while the morphologic changes are difficult to be identified in conventional T 2-weighted images. Our initial findings suggest that it would be worthwhile to validate the relationship between DTI metrics and the actual degenerative status of IVDs using extracted disc samples and to extend it to studies on patients with degenerative discs in order to further explore the clinical usefulness and relevance of DTI.

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