Object: This study was conducted to determine whether proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) is a sensitive method for detecting diffuse axonal injury, which is a primary sequela of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Diffuse axonal injury is characterized by selective damage to white matter tracts that is caused in part by the severe inertial strain created by rotational acceleration and deceleration, which is often associated with motor vehicle accidents. This axonal injury is typically difficult to detect by using conventional imaging techniques because it is microscopic in nature. The splenium was selected because it is a site vulnerable to shearing forces that produce diffuse axonal injury.
Methods: The authors used proton MRS to evaluate the splenium, the posterior commissure of the corpus callosum, in normal control volunteers and in patients with TBI. Proton MRS provided an index of neuronal and axonal viability by measuring levels of N-acetyl aspartate (NAA).
Conclusions: A majority of mildly brain injured patients, as well as those more severely injured, showed diminished NAA/creatine (Cr) levels in the splenium compared with normal control volunteers. The patients displaying lowered NAA/Cr in the splenium were also likely to exhibit lowered NAA/Cr in lobar white matter. Also, the levels of NAA/Cr in the splenium of normal volunteers were higher compared with those found in lobar white matter. Decreases in NAA/Cr levels in the splenium may be a marker for diffuse injury. A proton MRS examination may be particularly useful in evaluating mildly injured patients with unexplained neurological and cognitive deficits. It is concluded that MRS is a sensitive tool in detecting axonal injury.