White matter organization and cortical thickness differ among active duty service members with chronic mild, moderate, and severe traumatic brain injury

Abstract: This study compared Findings from whole-brain DTI and volumetric MRI among 90 Active Duty Service Members with chronic mild traumatic brain injury (TBI; n=52), chronic moderate-to-severe TBI (n=17), and TBI-negative controls (n=21). Data were collected on a Philips Ingenia 3T MRI with DTI in 32 directions. Results demonstrated that history of TBI was associated with differences in white matter microstructure, white matter volume, and cortical thickness in both mild TBI and moderate-to-severe TBI groups relative to controls. However, the presence, pattern, and distribution of these Findings varied substantially depending on the injury severity. Spatially-defined forms of DTI FA analyses identified altered white matter organization within the chronic moderate-to-severe TBI group, but they did not provide clear evidence of abnormalities within the chronic mild TBI group. In contrast, DTI FA "pothole" analyses identified widely distributed areas of decreased FA throughout the white matter in both the chronic mild TBI and chronic moderate-to-severe TBI groups. Additionally, decreased white matter volume was found in several brain regions for the chronic moderate-to-severe TBI group compared to the other groups. Greater number of DTI FA potholes and reduced cortical thickness were also related to greater severity of self-reported symptoms. In sum, this study expands upon a growing body of literature using advanced imaging techniques to identify potential effects of brain injury in military Service Members. These Findings may differ from work in other TBI populations due to varying mechanisms and frequency of injury, as well as a potentially higher level of functioning in the current sample related to the ability to maintain continued Active Duty status after injury. In Conclusion, this study provides DTI and volumetric MRI Findings across the spectrum of TBI severity. These Results provide support for the use of DTI and volumetric MRI to identify differences in white matter microstructure and volume related to TBI. In particular, DTI FA pothole analysis may provide greater sensitivity for detecting subtle forms of white matter injury than conventional DTI FA analyses.

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