Evaluating the cognitive consequences of mild traumatic brain injury and concussion by using electrophysiology

Neurosurg Focus. 2012 Dec;33(6):E7: 1-7. doi: 10.3171/2012.10.FOCUS12253.


Object: Mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI), often referred to as concussion when it occurs in sports, produces persistent cognitive problems in at least 15% of patients. Unfortunately, conventional neuropsychological tests usually yield results within normal limits in this population. The main objective of this event-related potential (ERP) study was to understand brain functioning during the performance of a working memory (WM) task in patients who have sustained an MTBI, mostly due to motor vehicle accident or sports concussion. This study also aimed for a better understanding of the association between brain functioning as measured with ERP, behavioral performance on the WM task, postconcussion symptoms, type of injury (that is, sports concussion vs other types), and time since the injury.

Methods: Forty-four patients with MTBI (7.6 ± 8.4 months postinjury) were tested on a visual WM task with simultaneous recording of ERP, and were compared with 40 control volunteers who were their equivalent for age and sex. Amplitude and latency of frontal (N200 and N350) and parietal (P200 and P300) ERP waves were measured and were compared between groups. Correlation analyses were also performed between ERP characteristics, clinical variables, and behavioral performance.

Results: A significant group difference was found for behavioral performance on the WM task, in which the MTBI group had a lower percentage of correct answers than the control group (p < 0.05). The patients with MTBI also had smaller amplitudes of both frontal N350 and parietal P300 ERP components when compared with control volunteers (p < 0.05). No changes were found for latency of ERP components. Smaller ERP amplitudes were associated with slower reaction times and worse accuracy on the WM task among patients with MTBI (p < 0.05). Types of injury (that is, sports concussion vs other mechanisms) were not associated with different ERP characteristics.

Conclusions: Abnormal ERP results are observed in patients after MTBI or sports concussion, even for those in the nonacute stage after their injury. Current standard clinical evaluations most often fail to detect cerebral dysfunction after MTBI, even when patients or athletes report symptoms. Clinicians should be aware that patients with MTBI, including sports concussion, probably have underlying mild but persistent cerebral dysfunctions that require further investigation.

Publication types

  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Concussion / diagnosis*
  • Brain Concussion / physiopathology*
  • Brain Injuries / diagnosis
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Cognition Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Electroencephalography / methods
  • Electroencephalography / standards
  • Event-Related Potentials, P300 / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Trauma Severity Indices
  • Young Adult