Article

A review of magnetic resonance imaging and diffusion tensor imaging findings in mild traumatic brain injury

Clinical Neuroscience Laboratory, Department of Psychiatry, VA Boston Healthcare System, Brockton, MA, USA.
Brain Imaging and Behavior (Impact Factor: 4.6). 03/2012; 6(2). DOI: 10.1007/s11682-012-9156-5
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), also referred to as concussion, remains a controversial diagnosis because the brain often appears quite normal on conventional computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. Such conventional tools, however, do not adequately depict brain injury in mTBI because they are not sensitive to detecting diffuse axonal injuries (DAI), also described as traumatic axonal injuries (TAI), the major brain injuries in mTBI. Furthermore, for the 15 to 30 % of those diagnosed with mTBI on the basis of cognitive and clinical symptoms, i.e., the "miserable minority," the cognitive and physical symptoms do not resolve following the first 3 months post-injury. Instead, they persist, and in some cases lead to long-term disability. The explanation given for these chronic symptoms, i.e., postconcussive syndrome, particularly in cases where there is no discernible radiological evidence for brain injury, has led some to posit a psychogenic origin. Such attributions are made all the easier since both posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression are frequently co-morbid with mTBI. The challenge is thus to use neuroimaging tools that are sensitive to DAI/TAI, such as diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), in order to detect brain injuries in mTBI. Of note here, recent advances in neuroimaging techniques, such as DTI, make it possible to characterize better extant brain abnormalities in mTBI. These advances may lead to the development of biomarkers of injury, as well as to staging of reorganization and reversal of white matter changes following injury, and to the ability to track and to characterize changes in brain injury over time. Such tools will likely be used in future research to evaluate treatment efficacy, given their enhanced sensitivity to alterations in the brain. In this article we review the incidence of mTBI and the importance of characterizing this patient population using objective radiological measures. Evidence is presented for detecting brain abnormalities in mTBI based on studies that use advanced neuroimaging techniques. Taken together, these findings suggest that more sensitive neuroimaging tools improve the detection of brain abnormalities (i.e., diagnosis) in mTBI. These tools will likely also provide important information relevant to outcome (prognosis), as well as play an important role in longitudinal studies that are needed to understand the dynamic nature of brain injury in mTBI. Additionally, summary tables of MRI and DTI findings are included. We believe that the enhanced sensitivity of newer and more advanced neuroimaging techniques for identifying areas of brain damage in mTBI will be important for documenting the biological basis of postconcussive symptoms, which are likely associated with subtle brain alterations, alterations that have heretofore gone undetected due to the lack of sensitivity of earlier neuroimaging techniques. Nonetheless, it is noteworthy to point out that detecting brain abnormalities in mTBI does not mean that other disorders of a more psychogenic origin are not co-morbid with mTBI and equally important to treat. They arguably are. The controversy of psychogenic versus physiogenic, however, is not productive because the psychogenic view does not carefully consider the limitations of conventional neuroimaging techniques in detecting subtle brain injuries in mTBI, and the physiogenic view does not carefully consider the fact that PTSD and depression, and other co-morbid conditions, may be present in those suffering from mTBI. Finally, we end with a discussion of future directions in research that will lead to the improved care of patients diagnosed with mTBI.

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Available from: Martha E Shenton, Aug 02, 2015
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    • "Increased diffusivities are robust and ubiquitous findings in neurodegenerative diseases (Assaf and Pasternak, 2008; Inglese and Bester, 2010; Seppi and Poewe, 2010; Agosta et al., 2011; Shenton et al., 2012), which are likely associated with neuroinflammation. Diffusion MRI is increasingly a very popular modality for schizophrenia studies, mainly because white matter abnormalities are often reported (e.g., see reviews in Fitzsimmons et al., 2013; Kubicki et al., 2007). "
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    • "In addition to investigating the mechanisms of injury, multimodal imaging may be more sensitive in the detection of the subtle deficits likely to be observed after mTBI. Furthermore, it may help counter the inherent variability of injury in mTBI by allowing individualized profiling across a set of parameters, and thus individual prognosis (Gonzalez and Walker 2011; Hunter et al. 2012; Irimia et al. 2012; McDonald et al. 2012; Shenton et al. 2012; Slobounov et al. 2012 "
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    ABSTRACT: Persistent postconcussion syndrome (PCS) occurs in around 5-10% of individuals after mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), but research into the underlying biology of these ongoing symptoms is limited and inconsistent. One reason for this could be the heterogeneity inherent to mTBI, with individualized injury mechanisms and psychological factors. A multimodal imaging study may be able to characterize the injury better. To look at the relationship between functional (fMRI), structural (diffusion tensor imaging), and metabolic (magnetic resonance spectroscopy) data in the same participants in the long term (>1 year) after injury. It was hypothesized that only those mTBI participants with persistent PCS would show functional changes, and that these changes would be related to reduced structural integrity and altered metabolite concentrations. Functional changes associated with persistent PCS after mTBI (>1 year postinjury) were investigated in participants with and without PCS (both n = 8) and non-head injured participants (n = 9) during performance of working memory and attention/processing speed tasks. Correlation analyses were performed to look at the relationship between the functional data and structural and metabolic alterations in the same participants. There were no behavioral differences between the groups, but participants with greater PCS symptoms exhibited greater activation in attention-related areas (anterior cingulate), along with reduced activation in temporal, default mode network, and working memory areas (left prefrontal) as cognitive load was increased from the easiest to the most difficult task. Functional changes in these areas correlated with reduced structural integrity in corpus callosum and anterior white matter, and reduced creatine concentration in right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. These data suggest that the top-down attentional regulation and deactivation of task-irrelevant areas may be compensating for the reduction in working memory capacity and variation in white matter transmission caused by the structural and metabolic changes after injury. This may in turn be contributing to secondary PCS symptoms such as fatigue and headache. Further research is required using multimodal data to investigate the mechanisms of injury after mTBI, but also to aid individualized diagnosis and prognosis.
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    • "We also employed DTI to track injury progression after 1, 4, and 7 days using quantitative measures including fiber count, fiber length, and fractional anisotropy (FA). Postinjury times were based on previous studies (Barkhoudarian et al., 2011; Bigler and Maxwell, 2012b) and were chosen because DTI can detect subtle brain damage linked to secondary injury (Shenton et al., 2012). Following injury and excision, we performed image analysis by using in-house software (ImageAnalyzer v2.2-0, CAVS, Starkville, MS), which comprises MATLAB scripts that are designed to quantify the defects in images of the brain's microstructure. "
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    ABSTRACT: We induced mild blunt and blast injuries in rats using a custom-built device and utilized in-house diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) software to reconstruct 3-D fiber tracts in brains before and after injury (1, 4, and 7 days). DTI measures such as fiber count, fiber length, and fractional anisotropy (FA) were selected to characterize axonal integrity. In-house image analysis software also showed changes in parameters including the area fraction (AF) and nearest neighbor distance (NND), which corresponded to variations in the microstructure of Hematoxylin and Eosin (H&E) brain sections. Both blunt and blast injuries produced lower fiber counts, but neither injury case significantly changed the fiber length. Compared to controls, blunt injury produced a lower FA, which may correspond to an early onset of diffuse axonal injury (DAI). However, blast injury generated a higher FA compared to controls. This increase in FA has been linked previously to various phenomena including edema, neuroplasticity, and even recovery. Subsequent image analysis revealed that both blunt and blast injuries produced a significantly higher AF and significantly lower NND, which correlated to voids formed by the reduced fluid retention within injured axons. In conclusion, DTI can detect subtle pathophysiological changes in axonal fiber structure after mild blunt and blast trauma. Our injury model and DTI method provide a practical basis for studying mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) in a controllable manner and for tracking injury progression. Knowledge gained from our approach could lead to enhanced mTBI diagnoses, biofidelic constitutive brain models, and specialized pharmaceutical treatments.
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