Neural correlates of working memory (WM) based on the Sternberg Item Recognition Task (SIRT) were assessed in 40 children with moderate-to-severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) compared to 41 demographically-comparable children with orthopedic injury (OI). Multiple magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) methods assessed structural and functional brain correlates of WM, including volumetric and cortical thickness measures on all children; functional MRI (fMRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) were performed on a subset of children. Confirming previous findings, children with TBI had decreased cortical thickness and volume as compared to the OI group. Although the findings did not confirm the predicted relation of decreased frontal lobe cortical thickness and volume to SIRT performance, left parietal volume was negatively related to reaction time (RT). In contrast, cortical thickness was positively related to SIRT accuracy and RT in the OI group, particularly in aspects of the frontal and parietal lobes, but these relationships were less robust in the TBI group. We attribute these findings to disrupted fronto-parietal functioning in attention and WM. fMRI results from a subsample demonstrated fronto-temporal activation in the OI group, and parietal activation in the TBI group, and DTI findings reflected multiple differences in white matter tracts that engage fronto-parietal networks. Diminished white matter integrity of the frontal lobes and cingulum bundle as measured by DTI was associated with longer RT on the SIRT. Across modalities, the cingulate emerged as a common structure related to performance after TBI. These results are discussed in terms of how different imaging modalities tap different types of pathologic correlates of brain injury and their relationship with WM.
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