Neural activation during response inhibition differentiates blast from mechanical causes of mild to moderate traumatic brain injury

J Neurotrauma. 2014 Jan 15;31(2):169-79. doi: 10.1089/neu.2013.2877. Epub 2013 Nov 1.


Military personnel involved in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) commonly experience blast-induced mild to moderate traumatic brain injury (TBI). In this study, we used task-activated functional MRI (fMRI) to determine if blast-related TBI has a differential impact on brain activation in comparison with TBI caused primarily by mechanical forces in civilian settings. Four groups participated: (1) blast-related military TBI (milTBI; n=21); (2) military controls (milCON; n=22); (3) non-blast civilian TBI (civTBI; n=21); and (4) civilian controls (civCON; n=23) with orthopedic injuries. Mild to moderate TBI (MTBI) occurred 1 to 6 years before enrollment. Participants completed the Stop Signal Task (SST), a measure of inhibitory control, while undergoing fMRI. Brain activation was evaluated with 2 (mil, civ)×2 (TBI, CON) analyses of variance, corrected for multiple comparisons. During correct inhibitions, fMRI activation was lower in the TBI than CON subjects in regions commonly associated with inhibitory control and the default mode network. In contrast, inhibitory failures showed significant interaction effects in the bilateral inferior temporal, left superior temporal, caudate, and cerebellar regions. Specifically, the milTBI group demonstrated more activation than the milCON group when failing to inhibit; in contrast, the civTBI group exhibited less activation than the civCON group. Covariance analyses controlling for the effects of education and self-reported psychological symptoms did not alter the brain activation findings. These results indicate that the chronic effects of TBI are associated with abnormal brain activation during successful response inhibition. During failed inhibition, the pattern of activation distinguished military from civilian TBI, suggesting that blast-related TBI has a unique effect on brain function that can be distinguished from TBI resulting from mechanical forces associated with sports or motor vehicle accidents. The implications of these findings for diagnosis and treatment of TBI are discussed.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Afghan Campaign 2001-
  • Blast Injuries / complications
  • Blast Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Injuries / etiology
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Functional Neuroimaging / instrumentation
  • Functional Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Iraq War, 2003-2011
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Trauma Severity Indices
  • United States
  • Veterans / psychology*