Objective: To investigate the relation of white matter integrity using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to cognitive and functional outcome of moderate to severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) in children.
Design: Prospective observational study of children who had sustained moderate to severe TBI and a comparison group of children who had sustained orthopedic injury (OI).
Participants: Thirty-two children who had sustained moderate to severe TBI and 36 children with OI were studied.
Methods: Fiber tracking analysis of DTI acquired at 3-month postinjury and assessment of global outcome and cognitive function within 2 weeks of brain imaging. Global outcome was assessed using the Glasgow Outcome Scale and the Flanker task was used to measure cognitive processing speed and resistance to interference.
Results: Fractional anisotropy and apparent diffusion coefficient values differentiated the groups and both cognitive and functional outcome measures were related to the DTI findings. Dissociations were present wherein the relation of Fractional anisotropy to cognitive performance differed between the TBI and OI groups. A DTI composite measure of white matter integrity was related to global outcome in the children with TBI.
Conclusions: DTI is sensitive to white matter injury at 3 months following moderate to severe TBI in children, including brain regions that appear normal on conventional magnetic resonance imaging. DTI measures reflecting diffusion of water parallel and perpendicular to white matter tracts as calculated by fiber tracking analysis are related to global outcome, cognitive processing speed, and speed of resolving interference in children with moderate to severe TBI. Longitudinal data are needed to determine whether these relations between DTI and neurobehavioral outcome of TBI in children persist at longer follow-up intervals.