Repetitive mild traumatic brain injuries (rmTBIs) are serious trauma events responsible for the development of numerous neurodegenerative disorders. A major challenge in developing diagnostics and treatments for the consequences of rmTBI is the fundamental knowledge gaps of the molecular mechanisms responsible for neurodegeneration. It is both critical and urgent to understand the neuropathological and functional consequences of rmTBI to develop effective therapeutic strategies. Using the Closed-Head Impact Model of Engineered Rotational Acceleration, or CHIMERA, we measured neural changes following injury, including brain volume, diffusion tensor imaging, and resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging coupled with graph theory and functional connectivity analyses. We determined the effect of rmTBI on markers of gliosis and used NanoString-GeoMx to add a digital-spatial protein profiling analysis of neurodegenerative disease-associated proteins in gray and white matter regions. Our analyses revealed aberrant connectivity changes in the thalamus, independent of microstructural damage or neuroinflammation. We also identified distinct changes in the levels of proteins linked to various neurodegenerative processes including total and phospho-tau species and cell proliferation markers. Together, our data show that rmTBI significantly alters brain functional connectivity and causes distinct protein changes in morphologically intact brain areas.
Keywords: CHIMERA; diffusion tensor imaging; microglia; optic tract; repetitive mild TBI; resting state fMRI; thalamus.