Mild elevations in core temperature can occur in individuals involved in strenuous activities that are risky for potentially sustaining a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) or concussion. Recently, we have discovered that mild elevations in brain temperature can significantly aggravate the histopathological consequences of mTBI. However, whether this exacerbation of brain pathology translates into behavioral deficits is unknown. Therefore, we investigated the behavioral consequences of elevating brain temperature to mildly hyperthermic levels prior to mTBI. Adult male Sprague Dawley rats underwent mild fluid-percussion brain injury or sham surgery while normothermic (37 °C) or hyperthermic (39 °C) and were allowed to recover for 7 days. Animals were then assessed for cognition using the water maze and cue and contextual fear conditioning. We found that mTBI alone at normothermia had no effect on long-term cognitive measures whereas mTBI animals that were hyperthermic for 15 min prior to and for 4h after brain injury were significantly impaired on long-term retention for both the water maze and fear conditioning. In contrast, hyperthermic mTBI animals cooled within 15 min to normothermia demonstrated no significant long-term cognitive deficits. Mild TBI irrespective of temperature manipulations resulted in significant short-term working memory deficits. Cortical atrophy and contusions were detected in all mTBI treatment groups and contusion volume was significantly less in hyperthermic mTBI animals that were cooled as compared to hyperthermic mTBI animals that remained hyperthermic. These results indicate that brain temperature is an important variable for mTBI outcome and that mildly elevated temperatures at the time of injury result in persistent cognitive deficits. Importantly, cooling to normothermia after mTBI prevents the development of long-term cognitive deficits caused by hyperthermia. Reducing temperature to normothermic levels soon after mTBI represents a rational approach to potentially mitigate the long-term consequences of mTBI.
Keywords: Cognition; Concussion; Hyperthermia; Memory; Temperature; Traumatic brain injury.
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