Traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients typically respond more slowly and with more variability than controls during tasks of attention requiring speeded reaction time. These behavioral changes are attributable, at least in part, to diffuse axonal injury (DAI), which affects integrated processing in distributed systems. Here we use a multivariate method sensitive to distributed neural activity to compare brain activity patterns of patients with chronic phase moderate to-severe TBI to those of controls during performance on a visual feature integration task assessing complex attentional processes that has previously shown sensitivity to TBI. The TBI patients were carefully screened to be free of large focal lesions that can affect performance and brain activation independently of DAI. The task required subjects to hold either one or three features of a Target in mind while suppressing responses to distracting information. In controls, the multi-feature condition activated a distributed network including limbic, prefrontal, and medial temporal structures. TBI patients engaged this same network in the single-feature and baseline conditions. In multi-feature presentations, TBI patients alone activated additional frontal, parietal, and occipital regions. These results are consistent with neuroimaging studies using tasks assessing different cognitive domains, where increased spread of brain activity changes was associated with TBI. Our results also extend previous findings that brain activity for relatively moderate task demands in TBI patients is similar to that associated with of high task demands in controls.
Keywords: attention; diffuse axonal injury; fMRI; feature integration; partial least squares; traumatic brain injury.