Effects of White-Matter Tract Length in Sport-Related Concussion: A Tractography Study from the NCAA-DoD CARE Consortium

J Neurotrauma. 2022 Nov;39(21-22):1495-1506. doi: 10.1089/neu.2021.0239. Epub 2022 Aug 17.


Sport-related concussion (SRC) is an important public health issue. White-matter alterations after SRC are widely studied by neuroimaging approaches, such as diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Although the exact anatomical location of the alterations may differ, significant white-matter alterations are commonly observed in long fiber tracts, but are never proven. In the present study, we performed streamline tractography to characterize the association between tract length and white-matter microstructural alterations after SRC. Sixty-eight collegiate athletes diagnosed with acute concussion (24-48 h post-injury) and 64 matched contact-sport controls were included in this study. The athletes underwent diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) in 3.0 T MRI scanners across three study sites. DTI metrics were used for tract-based spatial statistics to map white-matter regions-of-interest (ROIs) with significant group differences. Whole-brain white-mater streamline tractography was performed to extract "affected" white-matter streamlines (i.e., streamlines passing through the identified ROIs). In the concussed athletes, streamline counts and DTI metrics of the affected white-matter fiber tracts were summarized and compared with unaffected white-matter tracts across tract length in the same participant. The affected white-matter tracts had a high streamline count at length of 80-100 mm and high length-adjusted affected ratio for streamline length longer than 80 mm. DTI mean diffusivity was higher in the affected streamlines longer than 100 mm with significant associations with the Brief Symptom Inventory score. Our findings suggest that long fibers in the brains of collegiate athletes are more vulnerable to acute SRC with higher mean diffusivity and a higher affected ratio compared with the whole distribution.

Keywords: CARE Consortium; diffusion tensor imaging; sport-related concussion; tract length; tractography; white matter.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Athletic Injuries* / diagnostic imaging
  • Athletic Injuries* / pathology
  • Brain Concussion* / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Concussion* / pathology
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging / methods
  • Football* / injuries
  • Humans
  • White Matter* / pathology