Content » Vol 47, Issue 5

Original report

Preserved somatosensory conduction in a patient with complete cervical spinal cord injury

Amar Awad, Richard Levi, Lenita Lindgren , Claes Hultling, Göran Westling , Lars Nyberg, Johan Eriksson
Umeå Center for Functional Brain Imaging (UFBI), Umeå, Sweden
DOI: 10.2340/16501977-1955


Objective: Neurophysiological investigation has shown that patients with clinically complete spinal cord injury can have residual motor sparing (“motor discomplete”). In the current study somatosensory conduction was assessed in a patient with clinically complete spinal cord injury and a novel methodology for assessing such preservation is described, in this case indicating “sensory discomplete” spinal cord injury.
Methods: Blood oxygenation level-dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging (BOLD fMRI) was used to examine the somatosensory system in a healthy subject and in a subject with a clinically complete cervical spinal cord injury, by applying tactile stimulation above and below the level of spinal cord injury, with and without visual feedback.
Results: In the participant with spinal cord injury, somatosensory stimulation below the neurological level of the lesion gave rise to BOLD signal changes in the corresponding areas of the somatosensory cortex. Visual feedback of the stimulation strongly modulated the somatosensory BOLD signal, implying that cortico-cortical rather than spino-cortical connections can drive activity in the somatosensory cortex. Critically, BOLD signal change was also evident when the visual feedback of the stimulation was removed, thus demonstrating sensory discomplete spinal cord injury.
Conclusion: Given the existence of sensory discomplete spinal cord injury, preserved but hitherto undetected somatosensory conduction might contribute to the unexplained variability related to, for example, the propensity to develop decubitus ulcers and neuropathic pain among patients with clinically complete spinal cord injury.

Lay Abstract


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