Diffusion Tensor Imaging of the Evolving Response to Mild Traumatic Brain Injury in Rats

J Exp Neurosci. 2019 Jul 5;13:1179069519858627. doi: 10.1177/1179069519858627. eCollection 2019.


Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), also known as concussion, is a serious public health challenge. Although most patients recover, a substantial minority suffers chronic disability. The mechanisms underlying mTBI-related detrimental effects remain poorly understood. Although animal models contribute valuable preclinical information and improve our understanding of the underlying mechanisms following mTBI, only few studies have used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to study the evolution of axonal injury following mTBI in rodents. It is known that DTI shows changes after human concussion and the role of delineating imaging findings in animals is therefore to facilitate understanding of related mechanisms. In this work, we used a rodent model of mTBI to investigate longitudinal indices of axonal injury. We present the results of 45 animals that received magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at multiple time points over a 2-week period following concussive or sham injury yielding 109 serial observations. Overall, the evolution of DTI metrics following concussive or sham injury differed by group. Diffusion tensor imaging changes within the white matter were most noticeable 1 week following injury and returned to baseline values after 2 weeks. More specifically, we observed increased fractional anisotropy in combination with decreased radial diffusivity and mean diffusivity, in the absence of changes in axial diffusivity, within the white matter of the genu corpus callosum at 1 week post-injury. Our study shows that DTI can detect microstructural white matter changes in the absence of gross abnormalities as indicated by visual screening of anatomical MRI and hematoxylin and eosin (H&E)-stained sections in a clinically relevant animal model of mTBI. Whereas additional histopathologic characterization is required to better understand the neurobiological correlates of DTI measures, our findings highlight the evolving nature of the brain's response to injury following concussion.

Keywords: Animal model; closed head; concussion; magnetic resonance imaging; modified controlled cortical impact.