The conus medullaris (Latin for “medullary cone”) is the tapered, lower end of the spinal cord. It occurs near lumbar vertebral levels 1 (L1) and 2 (L2). The upper end of the conus medullaris is usually not well defined. After the spinal cord tapers out, the spinal nerves continue to branch out diagonally, forming the cauda equina.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-derived spinal cord (SC) gray and white matter (GM/WM) volume are useful indirect measures of atrophy and neurodegeneration over time, typically obtained in the upper SC. Neuropathological evidence suggests that in certain neurological conditions, early degeneration may occur as low as the sacral SC. In this study, the feasibility of GM/WM segmentation of the conus medullaris (CM) was assessed in vivo. METHODS:
Twenty-three healthy volunteers (11 female, mean age 47 years) underwent high-resolution 3T MRI of the CM using a 3-dimensional fast field echo sequence. Reproducibility of the volume measurements was assessed in 5 subjects (2 female, 25-37 years) by one rater who repeated the analysis 3 times and also with 2 additional raters working independently in order to calculate the intra- and interrater coefficient of variation (COV), respectively. Furthermore, the influence of age, gender, spine and SC metrics on tissue-specific measures of the CM was investigated. RESULTS:
Volumetric CM analyses (N = 23) for the SC, GM, and WM revealed a mean (SD) total volume of CM-TV = 1746.9 (296.7) mm3 , CM-GM-TV = 731.2 (106.0) mm3 , and CM-WM-TV = 1014.6 (211.3) mm3 , respectively. The intra-rater COV for measuring the CM-TV and CM-GM-TV was 3.38% and 7.42%, respectively; the interrater COV was 3.43% and 10.80%, respectively. Using age, gender, spine and SC metrics in regression models substantially reduced group variability for CM-TV, CM-WM-TV, and CM-GM-TV by up to 39.2%, 42.7%, and 21.2%, respectively. CONCLUSIONS:
The results from this study demonstrate the feasibility of obtaining tissue-specific volume measurements in the CM by means of MRI with good reproducibility and provide normative data for future applications in neurological diseases affecting the lower SC 1).