Importance: Animal models suggest that reduced cerebral blood flow (CBF) is one of the most enduring physiological deficits following concussion. Despite this, longitudinal studies documenting serial changes in regional CBF following human concussion have yet to be performed.
Objective: To longitudinally assess the recovery of CBF in a carefully selected sample of collegiate athletes and compare time course of CBF recovery with that of cognitive and behavioral symptoms.
Design, setting, and participants: A cohort of collegiate football athletes (N = 44) participated in this mixed longitudinal and cross-sectional study at a private research institute specializing in neuroimaging between March 2012 and December 2013. Serial imaging occurred approximately 1 day, 1 week, and 1 month postconcussion for a subset of participants (n = 17). All athletes reported no premorbid mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, or alcohol abuse.
Main outcomes and measures: Arterial spin labeling magnetic resonance imaging was used to collect voxelwise relative CBF at each visit. Neuropsychiatric evaluations and a brief cognitive screen were also performed at all 3 points. Clinicians trained in sports medicine provided an independent measure of real-world concussion outcome (ie, number of days withheld from competition).
Results: The results indicated both cognitive (simple reaction time) and neuropsychiatric symptoms at 1 day postinjury that resolved at either 1 week (cognitive; P < .005) or 1 month (neuropsychiatric; P < .005) postinjury. Imaging data suggested both cross-sectional (ie, healthy vs concussed athletes; P < .05) and longitudinal (1 day and 1 week vs 1 month postinjury; P < .001) evidence of CBF recovery in the right insular and superior temporal cortex. Importantly, CBF in the dorsal midinsular cortex was both decreased at 1 month postconcussion in slower-to-recover athletes (t11 = 3.45; P = .005) and was inversely related to the magnitude of initial psychiatric symptoms (Hamilton Depression Scale: r = -0.64, P = .02; Hamilton Anxiety Scale: r = -0.56, P = .046), suggesting a potential prognostic indication for CBF as a biomarker.
Conclusions and relevance: To our knowledge, these results provide the first prospective evidence of reduced CBF in human concussion and subsequent recovery. The resolution of CBF abnormalities closely mirrors previous reports from the animal literature and show real-world validity for predicting outcome following concussion.