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Magnetic resonance imaging of the erector spinae muscles in Duchenne muscular dystrophy: implication for scoliotic deformities

Gnahoua Zoabli12, Pierre A Mathieu12* and Carl-Éric Aubin13

Author Affiliations

1 Research Centre, Sainte-Justine University Hospital Centre, University of Montreal, 3175, Chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine, Montréal, Québec, H3T 1C5, Canada

2 Biomedical Engineering Institute, University of Montréal, C.P. 6128 succursale Centre-ville, Montréal, QC H3C 3J7, Canada

3 Department of Mechanical Engineering, École Polytechnique, University of Montreal, C.P. 6079, succursale Centre-ville, Montréal, QC, H3C 3A7, Canada

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Scoliosis 2008, 3:21  doi:10.1186/1748-7161-3-21

Published: 29 December 2008



In Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), the muscular degeneration often leads to the development of scoliosis. Our objective was to investigate how anatomical changes in back muscles can lead to scoliosis. Muscular volume and the level of fat infiltration in those muscles were thus evaluated, in non-scoliotic, pre-scoliotic and scoliotic patients. The overlying skin thickness over the apex level of scoliotic deformations was also measured to facilitate the interpretation of electromyographic signals when recorded on the skin surface.


In 8 DMD patients and two healthy controls with no known muscular deficiencies, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to measure continuously at 3 mm intervals the distribution of the erector spinae (ES) muscle in the T8-L4 region as well as fat infiltration in the muscle and overlying skin thickness: four patients were non-scoliotic (NS), two were pre-scoliotic (PS, Cobb angle < 15°) and two were scoliotic (S, Cobb angle ≥ 15°). For each subject, 63 images 3 mm thick of the ES muscle were obtained in the T8-L4 region on both sides of the spine. The pixel dimension was 0.39 × 0.39 mm. With a commercial software, on each 12 bits image, the ES contour on the left and on the right sides of the spine were manually determined as well as those of its constituents i.e., the iliocostalis (IL), the longissimus (LO) and the spinalis (SP) muscles. Following this segmentation, the surfaces within the contours were determined, the muscles volume were obtained, the amount of fat infiltration inside each muscle was evaluated and the overlying skin thickness measured.


The volume of the ES muscle of our S and PS patients was found smaller on the convex side relative to the concave one by 5.3 ± 0.7% and 2.8 ± 0.2% respectively. For the 4 NS patients, the volume difference of this muscle between right and left sides was 2.1 ± 1.5% and for the 2 controls, it was 1.4 ± 1.2%. Fat infiltration for the S and the PS patients was larger on the convex side than on the concave one (4.4 ± 1.6% and 4.5 ± 0.7% respectively) and the difference was more important near the apex. Infiltration was more important in the lateral IL muscle than in the medial SP and it was always larger near L2 than at any other spinal level. Fat infiltration was much more important in the ES for the DMD patients (49.9% ± 1.6%) than for the two controls (2.6 ± 0.8%). As for the overlying skin thickness measured near the deformity of the patients, it was larger on the concave than on the convex side: 14.8 ± 6.1 vs 13.5 ± 5.7 mm for the S and 10.3 ± 6.3 vs 9.8 ± 5.6 mm for the PS.


In DMD patients, our results indicate that a larger replacement of muscles fibers by fat infiltration on one side of the spine is a factor that can lead to the development of scoliosis. Efforts to slow such an infiltration on the most affected side of the spine could thus be beneficial to those patients by delaying the apparition of the scoliotic deformation. In addition to anatomical considerations, results obtained from the same patients but in experiments dealing with electromyography recordings, point to differences in the muscular contraction mechanisms and/or of the neural input to back muscles. This is similar to the adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (AIS) where a role of the nervous system in the development of the deformation has also been suggested.