Repeated mild blast exposure in young adult rats results in dynamic and persistent microstructural changes in the brain.
A history of mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), particularly repeated mTBI (rmTBI), has been identified as a risk factor for late-onset neurodegenerative conditions. The mild and transient nature of early symptoms often impedes diagnosis in young adults who are disproportionately affected by mTBIs. A proportion of the affected population will incur long-term behavioral and cognitive consequences but the underlying pathomechanism is currently unknown. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) provides sensitive and quantitative assessment of TBI-induced structural changes, including white matter injury, and may be used to predict long-term outcome. We used DTI in an animal model of blast rmTBI (rmbTBI) to quantify blast-induced structural changes at 7 and 90 days post-injury, and their evolution between the two time points. Young adult male rats (~P65 at injury) were exposed to repeated mild blast overpressure, or anesthetized as shams, and their fixed brains were imaged using high-field (7 T) MRI. We found that whole brain volumes similarly increased in injured and sham rats from 7 to 90 days. However, we detected localized volume increases in blast-exposed animals 7 days post-injury, mainly ipsilateral to incident blast waves. Affected regions included gray matter of the frontal association, cingulate, and motor cortex, thalamus, substantia nigra, and raphe nuclei (median and dorsal), as well as white matter of the internal capsule and cerebral peduncle. Conversely, we measured volume reductions in these and other regions, including the hippocampus and cerebellum, at 90 days post-injury. DTI also detected both transient and persistent microstructural changes following injury, with some changes showing distinct ipsilateral versus contralateral side differences relative to blast impact. Early changes in fractional anisotropy (FA) were subtle, becoming more prominent at 90 days in the cerebral and inferior cerebellar peduncles, and cerebellar white matter. Widespread increases in radial diffusivity (RD) and axial diffusivity (primary eigenvalue or E1) at 7 days post-injury largely subsided by 90 days, although RD was more sensitive than E1 at detecting white matter changes. E1 effects in gray and white matter, which paralleled increases in apparent diffusion, were likely more indicative of dysregulated water homeostasis than pathologic structural changes. Importantly, we found evidence for a different developmental trajectory following rmbTBI, as indicated by significant injury x age interactions on volume. Our findings demonstrate that rmbTBI initiates dynamic pathobiological processes that may negatively alter the course of late-stage neurodevelopment and adversely affect long-term cognitive and behavioral outcomes.
Badea, A; Kamnaksh, A; Anderson, RJ; Calabrese, E; Long, JB; Agoston, DV
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