Multiparametric MRI characterization of level dependent differences in lumbar muscle size, quality, and microstructure

Berry DB, Rodríguez-Soto AE, Englund EK, Shahidi B, Parra C, Frank LR, Kelly KR, Ward SR.
JOR Spine, 2020 3(2):e1079.

Abstract:

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a diagnostic tool that can be used to noninvasively assess lumbar muscle size and fatty infiltration, important biomarkers of muscle health. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) is an MRI technique that is sensitive to muscle microstructural features such as fiber size (an important biomarker of muscle health), which is typically only assessed using invasive biopsy techniques. The goal of this study was to establish normative values of level-dependent lumbar muscle size, fat signal fraction, and restricted diffusion assessed by MRI in a highly active population. Forty-two active-duty Marines were imaged using a (a) high-resolution anatomical, (b) fat-water separation, and (c) DT-MRI scan. The multifidus and erector spinae muscles were compared at each level using two-way repeated measures ANOVA. Secondary analysis included Three dimensional (3D) reconstructions to qualitatively assess lumbar muscle size, fatty infiltration, and fiber orientation via tractography. The erector spinae was found to be larger than the multifidus above L5, with lower fat signal fraction above L3, and a less restricted diffusion profile than the multifidus above L4, with this pattern reversed in the lower lumbar spine. 3D reconstructions demonstrated accumulations of epimuscular fat in the anterior and posterior regions of the lumbar musculature, with minimal intramuscular fatty infiltration. Tractography images demonstrated different orientations of adjacent lumbar musculature, which cannot be visualized with standard MRI pulse sequences. The level dependent differences found in this study provide a normative baseline, for which to better understand whole muscle and microstructural changes associated with aging, low back pain, and pathology.