Research shows that approximately 14% of school age children with mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) including sports-related concussions (SRCs) remain symptomatic three months after injury. Advanced imaging studies early after injury have shown evidence of axonal damage, reduced N-acetyl aspartate (NAA) and impaired cerebral blood flow (CBF) in individuals with mild TBI. This study was undertaken to determine whether these techniques can provide valuable information in pediatric SRC patients with persistent post-concussive symptoms. Fifteen pediatric subjects ages 8 to 17 years with persistent post-concussive symptoms were evaluated using perfusion-weighted imaging (PWI), three-dimensional (3D) magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging, and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) three to 12 months post-SRC. Data were compared with 15 demographically similar (age, gender, and body mass index) controls. In the bilateral thalami, SRC patients showed reduced CBF (p=0.02 and p=0.02) and relative cerebral blood volume (CBV; p=0.05 and p=0.03), compared with controls. NAA/creatine (Cr) and NAA/choline (Cho) ratios were reduced in the corpus callosum (p=0.003; p=0.05) and parietal white matter (p<0.001; p=0.006) of SRC subjects, compared with controls. Significant differences in DTI metrics differentiated patients with cognitive symptoms, compared with those without cognitive symptoms and controls. Advanced imaging methods detect a spectrum of injury including impaired axonal function, neuronal metabolism and perfusion, suggesting involvement of the neurovascular unit in the presence of persistent symptoms in pediatric SRC patients.
Keywords: MRI; cerebral blood flow; concussion; metabolism; pediatric; white matter integrity.