In order to develop more sensitive imaging tools for clinical use and basic research of spinal decompression sickness (DCS), we used diffusion tensor MRI (DTI) validated by histology to assess DCS-related tissue injury in sheep spinal cords. DTI is based on the measurement of water diffusion indices, including fractional anisotropy (FA) and mean diffusion (MD) to detect tissue microstructural abnormalities. In this study, we measured FA and MD in white and gray matter spinal cord regions in samples taken from sheep following hyperbaric exposure to 60-132 fsw and 0-180 minutes of oxygen pre-breathing treatment before rapid decompression. The main finding of the study was that decompression from >60 fsw resulted in reduced FA that was associated with cell death and disrupted tissue microstructure in spinal cord white matter tracts. Additionally, animals exposed to prolonged oxygen pre-breathing prior to decompression demonstrated reduced MD in spinal cord gray matter regions regardless of dive depth. To our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate the utility of DTI for the investigation of DCS-related injury and to define DTI biomarkers of spinal DCS.

Hutchinson, Sobakin, Meyerand, Eldridge, Ferrazzano, , , , (). Diffusion tensor MRI of spinal decompression sickness. Undersea & hyperbaric medicine : journal of the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society, Inc, ;40(1):23-31. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23397865