The source of inter-subject variability and the influence of age and gender on morphometric characteristics of the spinal cord, such as the total cross-sectional area (TCA), the gray matter (GM) and white matter (WM) areas, currently remain under investigation. Understanding the effect of covariates such as age, gender, brain volumes, and skull- and vertebra-derived metrics on cervical and thoracic spinal cord TCA and GM areas in healthy subjects would be fundamental for exploring compartment specific changes in neurological diseases affecting the spinal cord. Using Magnetic Resonance Imaging at 3T we investigated 32 healthy subjects using a 2D phase sensitive inversion recovery sequence and we measured TCA, GM and WM areas at 4 cervical and thoracic levels of the spinal cord. We assessed age and gender relationships of cord measures and explored associations between cord measures and a) brain volumes and b) skull- and vertebra-derived metrics. Age and gender had a significant effect on TCA, WM and GM areas (with women and elderly having smaller values than men and younger people respectively), but not on the GM area/TCA ratio. The total intracranial volume and C3 vertebra dimensions showed the highest correlations with cord measures. When used in multi-regression models, they reduced cord areas group variability by approximately a third. Age and gender influences on cord measures and normalization strategies here presented might be of use in the study of compartment specific changes in various neurological diseases affecting the spinal cord.
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