Non-contrast ultrasound image analysis for spatial and temporal distribution of blood flow after spinal cord injury

Denis Routkevitch, Zoe Soulé, Nicholas Kats, Emily Baca, Andrew M. Hersh, Kelley M. Kempski-Leadingham, Arjun K. Menta, Meghana Bhimreddy, Kelly Jiang, A. Daniel Davidar, Constantin Smit, Nicholas Theodore, Nitish V. Thakor, Amir Manbachi

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Ultrasound technology can provide high-resolution imaging of blood flow following spinal cord injury (SCI). Blood flow imaging may improve critical care management of SCI, yet its duration is limited clinically by the amount of contrast agent injection required for high-resolution, continuous monitoring. In this study, we aim to establish non-contrast ultrasound as a clinically translatable imaging technique for spinal cord blood flow via comparison to contrast-based methods and by measuring the spatial distribution of blood flow after SCI. A rodent model of contusion SCI at the T12 spinal level was carried out using three different impact forces. We compared images of spinal cord blood flow taken using both non-contrast and contrast-enhanced ultrasound. Subsequently, we processed the images as a function of distance from injury, yielding the distribution of blood flow through space after SCI, and found the following. (1) Both non-contrast and contrast-enhanced imaging methods resulted in similar blood flow distributions (Spearman’s ρ = 0.55, p < 0.0001). (2) We found an area of decreased flow at the injury epicenter, or umbra (p < 0.0001). Unexpectedly, we found increased flow at the periphery, or penumbra (rostral, p < 0.05; caudal, p < 0.01), following SCI. However, distal flow remained unchanged, in what is presumably unaffected tissue. (3) Finally, tracking blood flow in the injury zones over time revealed interesting dynamic changes. After an initial decrease, blood flow in the penumbra increased during the first 10 min after injury, while blood flow in the umbra and distal tissue remained constant over time. These results demonstrate the viability of non-contrast ultrasound as a clinical monitoring tool. Furthermore, our surprising observations of increased flow in the injury periphery pose interesting new questions about how the spinal cord vasculature reacts to SCI, with potentially increased significance of the penumbra.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number714
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2024

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