Trends in the Use of Corticosteroids in the Management of Acute Spinal Cord Injury in North American Clinical Trials Network Sites

Nader Hejrati, Bizhan Aarabi, Chris J. Neal, Beatrice Ugiliweneza, Shekar N. Kurpad, Christopher I. Shaffrey, James D. Guest, Elizabeth G. Toups, James S. Harrop, Michael G. Fehlings*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Immunomodulatory therapeutics represent a potential neuroprotective strategy for the management of acute spinal cord injury (SCI). One of the most intensely debated neuroprotective drugs has been methylprednisolone sodium succinate (MPSS), which was investigated initially for its role in mitigating lipid peroxidation. More recently, the anti-inflammatory/immunomodulatory properties of MPSS have been increasingly appreciated. Over the past two decades, several systematic reviews and clinical practice guidelines related to MPSS use in SCI have been published. The goal of this study was to investigate the temporal changes in the use of steroids at North American Clinical Trials Network (NACTN) centers and to correlate these changes with the evolution in published literature and guidelines. Data on patients enrolled from 2008-2018 in the prospective, multi-center NACTN registry, and in whom information related to the use of steroids was available, were analyzed. Patients were stratified based on whether they received steroids or not. The primary outcome was the change in the rate of steroid use per year between 2008 and 2018. Secondary outcomes included cardiac, gastrointestinal and genitourinary (GIGU), pulmonary, and dermatological complications. We identified 608 patients, of whom 171 (28.1%) were given steroids. In 2008 and 2009, the prevailing paradigm across NACTN centers was in favor of steroid administration and as such 70% (n = 56) of patients received steroids in 2008 and 71.9% (n = 46) in 2009. An abrupt practice reversal was observed in 2010, whereby only 19.7% of patients (n = 14) received steroids, a trend that continued over subsequent years. Increasing literature in the 2000s arguing against the use of steroids culminated in the 2013 CNS/AANS practice guidelines for the management of acute SCI. These guidelines recommended against the use of MPSS for the treatment of those with acute SCI. Over the following years (2013-2018), steroids continued to be an uncommonly used therapeutic option in NACTN centers (range 3.9-16.9%). Patients receiving steroids had significantly higher rates of pulmonary complications (87%, n = 147) compared with those not receiving steroids (73%, n = 265; p = 0.0003). Compared with patients receiving steroids, however, those who did not receive steroids had significantly higher rates of cardiac (40%, [n = 146] versus 23%, [n = 39]; p = 0.0001) and gastrointestinal/genitourinary complications (55%, [n = 189], versus 31%, [n = 52]; p < 0.0001). The 2013 AANS/CNS guidelines and preceding literature appeared to have an impact on dramatically lowering the rates of corticosteroid use for acute SCI in NACTN sites after 2009. Of note, this analysis may not reflect the impact of the 2017 AO Spine Clinical Practice guidelines, which suggested the use of methylprednisolone as a valid practice option for acute SCI, especially for cervical injuries. Enhanced patient involvement in the clinical decision-making process and opportunities to personalize SCI management exist in reference to the use of MPSS in acute SCI.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1938-1947
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neurotrauma
Issue number17-18
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • North American Clinical Trials Network
  • dexamethasone
  • guidelines
  • methylprednisolone
  • spinal cord injury


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