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This article is the author's final published version in Scientific Reports, Volume 13, 2023, Article number 19809.

The published version is available at Copyright © The Author(s) 2023.


MRI scanner hardware, field strengths, and sequence parameters are major variables in diffusion studies of the spinal cord. Reliability between scanners is not well known, particularly for the thoracic cord. DTI data was collected for the entire cervical and thoracic spinal cord in thirty healthy adult subjects with different MR vendors and field strengths. DTI metrics were extracted and averaged for all slices within each vertebral level. Metrics were examined for variability and then harmonized using longitudinal ComBat (longComBat). Four scanners were used: Siemens 3 T Prisma, Siemens 1.5 T Avanto, Philips 3 T Ingenia, Philips 1.5 T Achieva. Average full cord diffusion values/standard deviation for all subjects and scanners were FA: 0.63, σ = 0.10, MD: 1.11, σ = 0.12 × 10−3 mm2/s, AD: 1.98, σ = 0.55 × 10−3 mm2/s, RD: 0.67, σ = 0.31 × 10−3 mm2/s. FA metrics averaged for all subjects by level were relatively consistent across scanners, but large variability was found in diffusivity measures. Coefficients of variation were lowest in the cervical region, and relatively lower for FA than diffusivity measures. Harmonized metrics showed greatly improved agreement between scanners. Variability in DTI of the spinal cord arises from scanner hardware differences, pulse sequence differences, physiological motion, and subject compliance. The use of longComBat resulted in large improvement in agreement of all DTI metrics between scanners. This study shows the importance of harmonization of diffusion data in the spinal cord and potential for longitudinal and multisite clinical research and clinical trials.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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