We compared the integrity of white matter (WM) microstructure to the course of recovery in athletes who sustained one sports-related concussion (SRC), assessing individual longitudinal changes in WM fiber tracts following SRC using pre- and post-injury measurements.
Baseline diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) scans and neuropsychological tests were collected on 53 varsity contact-sport college athletes. Participants (n = 13) who subsequently sustained an SRC underwent DTI scans and neuropsychological testing at 2 days, 2 weeks, and 2 months following injury.
Relying on tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) analyses, we found that radial diffusivity (RD) and mean diffusivity (MD) were significantly increased at 2 days post-injury compared to the same-subject baseline (corrected p < 0.02). These alterations were visible in anterior/posterior WM regions spanning both hemispheres, demonstrating a diffuse pattern of injury after concussion. Implicated WM fiber tracts at 2 days include the following: right superior/inferior longitudinal fasciculus; right/left inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus; right corticospinal tract; right acoustic radiation; right/left anterior thalamic radiations; right/left uncinate fasciculus; and forceps major/minor. At 2 weeks post-injury, persistently elevated RD and MD were observed solely in prefrontal portions of WM fiber tracts (using same-subject contrasts). No significant differences were found for FA in any of the post-injury comparisons to baseline. Plots of individual subject RD and MD in prefrontal WM demonstrated homogenous increases from baseline to just after SRC; thereafter, trajectories became more variable. Most subjects' diffusivity values remained elevated at 2 months post-injury relative to their own baseline. Over the 2-month period after SRC, recovery of WM fiber tracts appeared to follow a posterior-to-anterior trend, paralleling the posterior-anterior pattern of WM maturation previously identified in the normal population.
These results suggest greater vulnerability of prefrontal regions to SRC, underline the importance of an individualized approach to concussion management, and show promise for using RD and MD for imaging-based diagnosis of SRC.