A prospective study of gray matter abnormalities in mild traumatic brain injury

Neurology. 2013 Dec 10;81(24):2121-7. doi: 10.1212/01.wnl.0000437302.36064.b1. Epub 2013 Nov 20.


Objective: To examine the underlying pathophysiology of mild traumatic brain injury through changes in gray matter diffusion and atrophy during the semiacute stage.

Methods: Fifty patients and 50 sex-, age-, and education-matched controls were evaluated with a clinical and neuroimaging battery approximately 14 days postinjury, with 26 patients returning for follow-up 4 months postinjury. Clinical measures included tests of attention, processing speed, executive function, working memory, memory, and self-reported postconcussive symptoms. Measures of diffusion (fractional anisotropy [FA], mean diffusivity) and atrophy were obtained for cortical and subcortical structures to characterize effects of injury as a function of time.

Results: Patients reported more cognitive, somatic, and emotional complaints during the semiacute injury phase, which were significantly reduced 4 months postinjury. Patients showed evidence of increased FA in the bilateral superior frontal cortex during the semiacute phase, with the left superior frontal cortex remaining elevated 4 months postinjury. There were no significant differences between patients and matched controls on neuropsychological testing or measures of gray matter atrophy/mean diffusivity at either time point.

Conclusions: Increased cortical FA is largely consistent with an emerging animal literature of gray matter abnormalities after neuronal injury. Potential mechanistic explanations for increased FA include cytotoxic edema or reactive gliosis. In contrast, there was no evidence of cortical or subcortical atrophy in the current study, suggesting that frank neuronal or neuropil loss does not occur early in the chronic disease course for patients with typical mild traumatic brain injury.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Injuries / diagnosis*
  • Brain Injuries / metabolism*
  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism*
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology*
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Young Adult