Edema and brain trauma

Neuroscience. 2004;129(4):1021-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2004.06.046.


Brain edema leading to an expansion of brain volume has a crucial impact on morbidity and mortality following traumatic brain injury (TBI) as it increases intracranial pressure, impairs cerebral perfusion and oxygenation, and contributes to additional ischemic injuries. Classically, two major types of traumatic brain edema exist: "vasogenic" due to blood-brain barrier (BBB) disruption resulting in extracellular water accumulation and "cytotoxic/cellular" due to sustained intracellular water collection. A third type, "osmotic" brain edema is caused by osmotic imbalances between blood and tissue. Rarely after TBI do we encounter a "hydrocephalic edema/interstitial" brain edema related to an obstruction of cerebrospinal fluid outflow. Following TBI, various mediators are released which enhance vasogenic and/or cytotoxic brain edema. These include glutamate, lactate, H(+), K(+), Ca(2+), nitric oxide, arachidonic acid and its metabolites, free oxygen radicals, histamine, and kinins. Thus, avoiding cerebral anaerobic metabolism and acidosis is beneficial to control lactate and H(+), but no compound inhibiting mediators/mediator channels showed beneficial results in conducted clinical trials, despite successful experimental studies. Hence, anti-edematous therapy in TBI patients is still symptomatic and rather non-specific (e.g. mannitol infusion, controlled hyperventilation). For many years, vasogenic brain edema was accepted as the prevalent edema type following TBI. The development of mechanical TBI models ("weight drop," "fluid percussion injury," and "controlled cortical impact injury") and the use of magnetic resonance imaging, however, revealed that "cytotoxic" edema is of decisive pathophysiological importance following TBI as it develops early and persists while BBB integrity is gradually restored. These findings suggest that cytotoxic and vasogenic brain edema are two entities which can be targeted simultaneously or according to their temporal prevalence.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acidosis, Lactic / etiology
  • Acidosis, Lactic / physiopathology
  • Acidosis, Lactic / prevention & control
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / physiopathology*
  • Brain Edema / etiology
  • Brain Edema / pathology
  • Brain Edema / physiopathology*
  • Brain Injuries / complications*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation Mediators / metabolism
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance / physiology


  • Inflammation Mediators