Network dysfunction after traumatic brain injury

Nat Rev Neurol. 2014 Mar;10(3):156-66. doi: 10.1038/nrneurol.2014.15. Epub 2014 Feb 11.


Diffuse axonal injury after traumatic brain injury (TBI) produces neurological impairment by disconnecting brain networks. This structural damage can be mapped using diffusion MRI, and its functional effects can be investigated in large-scale intrinsic connectivity networks (ICNs). Here, we review evidence that TBI substantially disrupts ICN function, and that this disruption predicts cognitive impairment. We focus on two ICNs--the salience network and the default mode network. The activity of these ICNs is normally tightly coupled, which is important for attentional control. Damage to the structural connectivity of these networks produces predictable abnormalities of network function and cognitive control. For example, the brain normally shows a 'small-world architecture' that is optimized for information processing, but TBI shifts network function away from this organization. The effects of TBI on network function are likely to be complex, and we discuss how advanced approaches to modelling brain dynamics can provide insights into the network dysfunction. We highlight how structural network damage caused by axonal injury might interact with neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer disease and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which are late complications of TBI. Finally, we discuss how network-level diagnostics could inform diagnosis, prognosis and treatment development following TBI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Injuries / pathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Central Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology*