Detection of white matter damage is associated with recovery outcomes at one year after traumatic brain injury.

Brain and Lighted Colors

Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), or concussion, is a worldwide health concern. Many people who sustain this kind of injury experience persistent cognitive, emotional, and functional deficits. These impairments can seriously limit a person’s ability to function socially and in the workplace, so early detection of brain damage after mTBI is essential for improving long-term patient outcomes.

MTBI can damage the brain’s white matter, the system of axons that coordinates communication between different areas of the brain. Diffuse axonal injury (DAI) occurs when the structure of the white matter is injured after mTBI, and it is typically associated with poor cognitive and emotional outcomes during the recovery period. Conventional types of brain imaging technology are not sensitive enough to detect DAI, which may limit clinicians’ ability to treat the injury.

Fortunately, research has identified diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) as a method for identifying DAI in patients with brain injury. A group of Norwegian researchers used DTI to identify DAI in 134 patients with concussion. They found that a significant number of patients with detectable DAI reported negative symptomatic outcomes at the 12-month recovery mark, including fatigue, headaches, and psychological distress.

Early detection of TBI-related damage allows clinicians to provide patients with timely, appropriate interventions that can improve outcomes during the recovery period. Unlike many conventional brain imaging methods, DTI is a promising tool for detecting subtle brain damage, and it may play an important role in advancing the quality of brain imaging techniques.

Hellstrøm T, Westlye LT, Kaufmann T, et al. White matter microstructure is associated functional, cognitive, and emotional symptoms 12 months after mild traumatic brain injury. Scientific Reports. (October 2017).

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