Unusual Brainstem Twisting Revealed by MRI Tractography in a Patient Who Survived a Severe Traumatic Upper Spinal Dislocation

June 2013

Calixto Machado
Jesús Pérez Néllar
Rafael Rodriguez-Rojas
Mauricio Chinchilla
Philip A. DeFina
…and others.

ABSTRACT: We report unusual twisting of the brainstem in MRI tractography in a patient who survived a traumatic brain injury with upper spinal dislocation. A 39-year-old male patient involved in a high-speed car accident was admitted in coma on February 2003. He had a Glasgow Coma Scale of 4, respiratory arrhythmia and tetraplegia. Four weeks later he was diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state (PVS). Our group evaluated him for first time in 2010. The patient was then in a minimally conscious state (MCS), with a limited but clear evidence of awareness of the environment, based on a reproducible gestural response following simple commands and visual pursuit of relatives and other persons in his room. He maintained a severe tetraplegia, hyperreflexia, and bilateral Babinski sign. Neuroimaging studies (Figure 1) performed according to our protocol for the assessment of PVS/MCS,1,2 demonstrated a severe atrophic and twisted brainstem. There was an MRI-T2 hyperintensity in the lower part of the medulla oblongata that suggested the presence of an old infarct, probably due to an ischemic and/or hemorrhagic insult because of the compression of the brainstem. MRI-Tractography revealed brainstem long tracts twisting. In order to have a better visualization of bone abnormalities, CT with 3D reconstruction was performed demonstrating a rotatory deformity of the upper spine. In our patient hypoxic encephalopathy secondary to acute respiratory insufficiency was surely the cause of his chronic consciousness disorder.1,2 Probably his critical condition, and the needs of life support protocols upon arrival to the intensive care, hampered the with upper spinal dislocation diagnosis,3-5 leading to a lack of radiological evidence, or due to the presence of additional injuries where a clinical examination is impossible. The demonstration of brainstem twisting instead of section in MRI-Tractography has is an unusual neuroimaging finding, and scientifically highlights the neuroimaging findings in this patient who survived severe upper spinal dislocation.

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