In a recent news release, Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science researchers state that they have achieved the first conclusive, noninvasive measurement of neural signaling in the spinal cord of healthy human volunteers. The technique may reportedly help pave the way to assisting patients in the recovery of spinal cord injuries and other disorders impacting spinal cord function, such as multiple sclerosis.

During the study, the release notes that researchers used ultra-high field functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to detect the “resting state” signals between neural circuits in the human spinal column. These signals, researchers say, are continuously active, not in response to external stimuli.

Robert Barry, PhD, the paper’s first author, postdoctoral research fellow in the institute directed by John Gore, PhD, senior author, states in the release, “We definitely hope that this work can be translated to address many neurological disorders.”

According to the release, the technique may serve as valuable tool for understanding how SCI changes the “functional connectivity” between neural circuits, for instance, and for assessing and monitoring recovery that occurs spontaneously or following various interventions.

Gore notes, “The hope is that when you have impaired function, that there will be changes (in the signals). We’ve already got evidence for that from other studies.”

The release reports that the studies of “resting” brain spotlight how neural circuits coordinate in order to control a range of functions and to facilitate different behaviors.

Since the spinal cord is much smaller than the brain, the release adds, it can be more challenging to study and conventional fMRI is not sensitive enough to pick up its signals. To meet this challenge, the team used an fMRI scanner featuring a 7 Tesla magnet, multichannel spinal cord coils, and methods for acquiring and analyzing the images.

[Source: Vanderbilt University Medical Center]