In patients with chronic-phase traumatic brain injury (TBI), structural MRI is readily attainable and provides rich anatomical information, yet the relationship between whole-brain structural MRI measures and neurocognitive outcome is relatively unexplored and can be complicated by the presence of combined focal and diffuse injury. In this study, sixty-three patients spanning the full range of TBI severity received high-resolution structural MRI concurrent with neuropsychological testing. Multivariate statistical analysis assessed covariance patterns between volumes of grey matter, white matter, and sulcal/subdural and ventricular CSF across 38 brain regions and neuropsychological test performance. Patients with diffuse and diffuse + focal injury were analyzed both separately and together. Tests of speeded attention, working memory, and verbal learning and memory robustly covaried with a distributed pattern of volume loss over temporal, ventromedial prefrontal, right parietal regions, and cingulate regions. This pattern was modulated by the presence of large focal lesions, but held even when analyses were restricted to those with diffuse injury. Effects were most consistently observed within grey matter. Relative to regional brain volumetric data, clinically defined injury severity (depth of coma at time of injury) showed only weak relation to neuropsychological outcome. The results showed that neuropsychological test performance in patients with TBI is related to a distributed pattern of volume loss in regions mediating mnemonic and attentional processing. This relationship holds for patients with and without focal lesions, indicating that diffuse injury alone is sufficient to cause significant neuropsychological disability in relation to regional volume loss. Quantified structural brain imaging data provides a highly sensitive index of brain integrity that is related to cognitive functioning in chronic phase TBI.
Keywords: Attention; Executive Function; Memory; Neuropsychological assessment; Structural MRI; Traumatic Brain Injury.