Investigating the overlapping associations of prior concussion, default mode connectivity, and executive function-based symptoms

Brain Imaging Behav. 2022 Jun;16(3):1275-1283. doi: 10.1007/s11682-021-00617-2. Epub 2022 Jan 6.


Growing evidence suggests that younger athletes with greater concussion history are more likely to endorse greater subjective cognitive (e.g., executive function) symptoms, but not perform worse on objective cognitive testing. We sought to identify biological correlates of elevated cognitive symptoms in 100 healthy, collegiate-aged athletes with varying degrees of concussion history. Associations between concussion history with subjectively-rated executive function were assessed with generalized linear models. Using resting state fMRI, we examined associations between concussion history and between-and within-network connectivity across three networks integral to executive function; default mode network (DMN), frontoparietal network (FPN), and ventral attention network (VAN). Relationships of between-and within-network connectivity with subjective executive function were assessed. Although the large majority of participants did not report clinically relevant levels of executive difficulties, there was a significant association between concussion history and higher behavioral regulation-related symptoms; B = .04[.01, .07], p = .011. A significant elevation in total within-network connectivity was observed among those with a greater concussion history, B = .02[.002, .03], p = .028, which was primarily driven by a positive association between concussion history and within DMN connectivity, B = .02[.004, .04], p = .014. Higher behavioral regulation-related symptoms were associated with greater total within-network connectivity, B = 0.57[0.18, 0.96], p = .005, and increased within-network connectivity for the DMN, B = .49[.12, .86], p = .010). The current study identified a distinct biological correlate, increased within-DMN connectivity, which was associated with both a greater history of concussion and greater behavioral regulation symptoms. Future studies are required to determine the degree to which these changes associated with concussion history may evolve toward objective cognitive decline over the lifespan.

Keywords: Concussion; Default mode network; Executive function; Resting-state fMRI; Subjective cognitive function; mTBI.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Concussion* / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognitive Dysfunction*
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Nerve Net / diagnostic imaging
  • Neuropsychological Tests