Disconnection between the default mode network and medial temporal lobes in post-traumatic amnesia

Brain. 2016 Dec;139(Pt 12):3137-3150. doi: 10.1093/brain/aww241. Epub 2016 Oct 22.


SEE BIGLER DOI101093/AWW277 FOR A SCIENTIFIC COMMENTARY ON THIS ARTICLE: Post-traumatic amnesia is very common immediately after traumatic brain injury. It is characterized by a confused, agitated state and a pronounced inability to encode new memories and sustain attention. Clinically, post-traumatic amnesia is an important predictor of functional outcome. However, despite its prevalence and functional importance, the pathophysiology of post-traumatic amnesia is not understood. Memory processing relies on limbic structures such as the hippocampus, parahippocampus and parts of the cingulate cortex. These structures are connected within an intrinsic connectivity network, the default mode network. Interactions within the default mode network can be assessed using resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging, which can be acquired in confused patients unable to perform tasks in the scanner. Here we used this approach to test the hypothesis that the mnemonic symptoms of post-traumatic amnesia are caused by functional disconnection within the default mode network. We assessed whether the hippocampus and parahippocampus showed evidence of transient disconnection from cortical brain regions involved in memory processing. Nineteen patients with traumatic brain injury were classified into post-traumatic amnesia and traumatic brain injury control groups, based on their performance on a paired associates learning task. Cognitive function was also assessed with a detailed neuropsychological test battery. Functional interactions between brain regions were investigated using resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging. Together with impairments in associative memory, patients in post-traumatic amnesia demonstrated impairments in information processing speed and spatial working memory. Patients in post-traumatic amnesia showed abnormal functional connectivity between the parahippocampal gyrus and posterior cingulate cortex. The strength of this functional connection correlated with both associative memory and information processing speed and normalized when these functions improved. We have previously shown abnormally high posterior cingulate cortex connectivity in the chronic phase after traumatic brain injury, and this abnormality was also observed in patients with post-traumatic amnesia. Patients with post-traumatic amnesia showed evidence of widespread traumatic axonal injury measured using diffusion magnetic resonance imaging. This change was more marked within the cingulum bundle, the tract connecting the parahippocampal gyrus to the posterior cingulate cortex. These findings provide novel insights into the pathophysiology of post-traumatic amnesia and evidence that memory impairment acutely after traumatic brain injury results from altered parahippocampal functional connectivity, perhaps secondary to the effects of axonal injury on white matter tracts connecting limbic structures involved in memory processing.

Keywords: default mode network; functional connectivity; memory; post-traumatic amnesia; traumatic brain injury.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amnesia / diagnostic imaging
  • Amnesia / etiology
  • Amnesia / physiopathology*
  • Association Learning / physiology
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic / complications
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / diagnostic imaging
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Net / diagnostic imaging
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology*
  • Parahippocampal Gyrus / diagnostic imaging
  • Parahippocampal Gyrus / physiopathology*
  • Spatial Memory / physiology
  • Young Adult