There is still controversy in the literature whether a single episode of mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) results in short- and/or long-term functional and structural deficits in the concussed brain. With the inability of traditional brain imaging techniques to properly assess the severity of brain damage induced by a concussive blow, there is hope that more advanced applications such as resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rsFMRI) will be more specific in accurately diagnosing mTBI. In this rsFMRI study, we examined 17 subjects 10±2 days post-sports-related mTBI and 17 age-matched normal volunteers (NVs) to investigate the possibility that the integrity of the resting state brain network is disrupted following a single concussive blow. We hypothesized that advanced brain imaging techniques may reveal subtle alterations of functional brain connections in asymptomatic mTBI subjects. There are several findings of interest. All mTBI subjects were asymptomatic based upon clinical evaluation and neuropsychological (NP) assessments prior to the MRI session. The mTBI subjects revealed a disrupted functional network both at rest and in response to the YMCA physical stress test. Specifically, interhemispheric connectivity was significantly reduced in the primary visual cortex, hippocampal and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex networks (p<0.05). The YMCA physical stress induced nonspecific and similar changes in brain network connectivity patterns in both the mTBI and NV groups. These major findings are discussed in relation to underlying mechanisms, clinical assessment of mTBI, and current debate regarding functional brain connectivity in a clinical population. Overall, our major findings clearly indicate that functional brain alterations in the acute phase of injury are overlooked when conventional clinical and neuropsychological examinations are used.
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