The pathophysiology of concussion

PM R. 2011 Oct;3(10 Suppl 2):S359-68. doi: 10.1016/j.pmrj.2011.07.018.


Concussion is defined as a biomechanically induced brain injury characterized by the absence of gross anatomic lesions. Early and late clinical symptoms, including impairments of memory and attention, headache, and alteration of mental status, are the result of neuronal dysfunction mostly caused by functional rather than structural abnormalities. The mechanical insult initiates a complex cascade of metabolic events leading to perturbation of delicate neuronal homeostatic balances. Starting from neurotoxicity, energetic metabolism disturbance caused by the initial mitochondrial dysfunction seems to be the main biochemical explanation for most postconcussive signs and symptoms. Furthermore, concussed cells enter a peculiar state of vulnerability, and if a second concussion is sustained while they are in this state, they may be irreversibly damaged by the occurrence of swelling. This condition of concussion-induced brain vulnerability is the basic pathophysiology of the second impact syndrome. N-acetylaspartate, a brain-specific compound representative of neuronal metabolic wellness, is proving a valid surrogate marker of the post-traumatic biochemical damage, and its utility in monitoring the recovery of the aforementioned "functional" disturbance as a concussion marker is emerging, because it is easily detectable through proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Aspartic Acid / analogs & derivatives
  • Aspartic Acid / metabolism
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain Concussion / physiopathology*
  • Brain Edema / physiopathology
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology
  • Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • Intracranial Hypertension / physiopathology
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism


  • Biomarkers
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Aspartic Acid
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • N-acetylaspartate