This report outlines the use of a customized false-color 3D computed tomography (CT) protocol for the imaging of the rectus femoris of spinal cord injury (SCI) patients suffering from complete and permanent denervation, as characterized by complete Conus and Cauda Equina syndrome. This muscle imaging method elicits the progression of the syndrome from initial atrophy to eventual degeneration, as well as the extent to which patients' quadriceps could be recovered during four years of home-based functional electrical stimulation (h-b FES). Patients were pre-selected from several European hospitals and functionally tested by, and enrolled in the EU Commission Shared Cost Project RISE (Contract n. QLG5-CT-2001-02191) at the Department of Physical Medicine, Wilhelminenspital, Vienna, Austria. Denervated muscles were electrically stimulated using a custom-designed stimulator, large surface electrodes, and customized progressive stimulation settings. Spiral CT images and specialized computational tools were used to isolate the rectus femoris muscle and produce 3D and 2D reconstructions of the denervated muscles. The cross sections of the muscles were determined by 2D Color CT, while muscle volumes were reconstructed by 3D Color CT. Shape, volume, and density changes were measured over the entirety of each rectus femoris muscle. Changes in tissue composition within the muscle were visualized by associating different colors to specified Hounsfield unit (HU) values for fat, (yellow: [-200; -10]), loose connective tissue or atrophic muscle, (cyan: [-9; 40]), and normal muscle, fascia and tendons included, (red: [41; 200]). The results from this analysis are presented as the average HU values within the rectus femoris muscle reconstruction, as well as the percentage of these tissues with respect to the total muscle volume. Results from this study demonstrate that h-b FES induces a compliance-dependent recovery of muscle volume and size of muscle fibers, as evidenced by the gain and loss in muscle mass. These results highlight the particular utility of this modality in the quantitative longitudinal assessment of the responses of skeletal muscle to long-term denervation and h-b FES recovery.
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