Mild Brain Injury Diagnosis May Be Assisted by Looking at Brain Connectivity Changes: Study

Changes in brain connectivity, seen directly after a head trauma, may help doctors diagnose mild brain injuries earlier, according to the findings of a new study. 

Brain imaging focusing on brain connectivity changes after a concussion, or another head injury, may be a better indicator of mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) than identifying brain lesions through an MRI, according to researchers from the University of California, San Francisco and San Francisco General Hospital’s Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Center.

In a study published online ahead of print in the Journal of Neurotrauma, researchers focused on resting-state functional MRI, or rsfMRI, to assess semi-acute alterations in brain connectivity and how that relates to side effects from head trauma. Researchers focused on 75 mTBI patients from the multi-center Transforming Research and Clinical Knowledge in TBI pilot study. They compared their health data to 47 matched healthy control subjects.

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Researchers used CT scans and MRIs to determine if there was evidence of brain lesions in patients who suffered head injuries.

The study concluded patients that showed brain connectivity changes, detected via MRI at the time of injury, were better diagnosed with mTBI, even without the presence of brain lesions on an MRI. The patients had altered patterns of functional connectivity, but CT and MRI imaging did not always reveal accompanying brain lesion abnormalities.

Brain connectivity focuses on the pattern of anatomical links and interactions between the distance portions of the nervous system.

The findings are promising, considering the rising rates of head injuries suffered by the American population. A recent study indicated nearly 2 million children suffer mild brain injury each year and do not get proper medical evaluation.

More concerning, children who suffer mild or severe traumatic brain injury suffer long-term effects to behavior and academic performance. Other research has shown a link between TBI and Alzheimer’s and dementia later in life.

Among the findings of the new study, researchers said the brain connectivity changes were a good predictor of the development of persistent post-concussive syndrome, where brain injury symptoms lasted for more than 6 months.

“Although it is often assumed that there will be total recovery within the first 3 months after an episode of mTBI, in some patients symptoms may be persistent and may result in lifelong disability,” wrote study authors.

Researchers were able to diagnose and predict the long-term effects of mTBI on patients with connectivity changes by 6 months post-injury. This predicted cognitive and behavioral function changes as well, regardless if brain lesions were seen.

Focusing on long-term effects is especially important as research mounts linking head injuries to a slew of side effects. A study from 2016 indicated brain injury patients were twice as likely to die from an unintentional death.

According to researchers the study “shows rsfMRI as a sensitive biomarker for early diagnosis and for prediction of the cognitive and behavioral performance” of brain injury patients.


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