Blast-Related Mild TBI Linked With Brain Abnormalities

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People who experience mild blast-related traumatic brain injury, especially those who loose consciousness, show distinct structural brain abnormalities in their white matter visible through Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) according to a new report published in the journal NeuroImage: Clinical.

An example of a DTI scan

An example of a DTI scan

According to the report, the study is the first to link mTBI with loss of consciousness directly with brain abnormalities associated with decreased performance in verbal memory.

Blast-related TBI is a highly common injury among veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, due to the widespread use of improvised explosives in the areas.

Severe TBI caused by these explosives is often easily recognizable, but the vast majority of brain injuries caused by IED’s are mild brain injuries which are often undetectable with standard imaging techniques such as FCT scans. The new scanning technique, DTI, is sensitive to subtle changes in the white matter which makes it very useful in studying, detecting, and diagnosing mild TBI.

For this study, the researchers recruited three groups including a control group with no history of TBI, a TBI group with no loss of consciousness, and a TBI group with loss of consciousness. All participants underwent TBI, PTSD, and neuropsychological assessments, including tests for executive function and memory along with MRI and DTI imaging.

According to the report, the findings showed that individuals with mild TBI showed several unhealthy brain abnormalities linked to poor memory, especially in individuals who experienced loss of consciousness.

“Our hope is that this study will make clear that mTBI, to a greater extent than PTSD, is associated with white matter abnormalities and thus cognitive changes and other negative outcomes cannot be entirely attributed to mental health disorders,” explained corresponding author Jasmeet Pannu Hayes, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine and a research psychologist at the National Center for PTSD at the VA Boston Healthcare System.

“We also hope that our study will highlight the usefulness of diffusion tensor imaging in detecting blast-related mTBI, particularly as TBI from this injury mechanism has become more common in recent years with the increased use of improvised explosive devices,” she added.

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