Altered Brain Network Connectivity Underlies Persistent Post-Traumatic Headache following Mild Traumatic Brain Injury in Youth

J Neurotrauma. 2021 Jun 15;38(12):1632-1641. doi: 10.1089/neu.2020.7189. Epub 2021 Jan 8.


Post-traumatic headaches (PTHs) are associated with mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI) and may predict the persistence of concussion symptoms. Altered brain networks implicated in brain injury and the affective components of headache-related pain may underlie the resolution of PTH. This is a hypothesis-generating investigation to evaluate the extent to which pain symptom reporting and functional brain changes are different in a cohort of young mTBI patients with resolved (PTH-R) and persistent (PTH-P) post-traumatic headache symptoms relative to healthy controls. This was a cross-sectional investigation involving 59 participants between the ages of 12-24 (PTH-P, n = 21; PTH-R, n = 18; healthy control, n = 20). Participants had no significant history of pre-existing headaches, chronic pain, or psychiatric neurological conditions. The primary outcome was resting-state functional connectivity (RS-Fc) alterations between cohorts. Secondary outcomes were self-reported pain-related symptoms. Elevated scores were reported for fear of pain in both PTH cohorts. Using a false discovery rate of p = 0.05, the PTH-P cohort showed altered connectivity relative to healthy controls in brain regions such as the frontal, temporal, and cerebellar regions, as well as sub-cortical regions including the amygdala and accumbens. The PTH-R cohort showed altered RS-Fc between cerebellar and temporal lobe sub-regions. Our results indicate that a core network of brain regions implicated in the affective pain response are functionally altered in PTH cohorts. Results should be interpreted given limitations on sample size and multiple comparisons. Despite the resolution of symptoms, persons who experience PTH may experience ongoing functional brain abnormalities, which may underlie symptom chronification.

Keywords: fear of pain; pain catastrophizing; post-traumatic headaches; resting-state functional connectivity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural