Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a complex phenomenon affecting multiple areas of the brain in multiple ways. Both right and left hemispheres are affected as well as supratentorial and infratentorial compartments. These multifocal injuries are caused by many factors including acute mechanical injury, focal intracranial hemorrhage, blunt and rotational forces, epidural and subdural hematoma, hypoxemia, hypotension, edema, axonal damage, neuronal death, gliosis and blood brain barrier disruption. Clinicians and patients benefit by precise information about the neuroanatomical areas that are affected macroscopically, microscopically and biochemically in an individual patient.
Standard imaging studies are frequently negative or grossly underestimate the severity of TBI and may exacerbate and prolong patient suffering with an imaging result of “no significant abnormality”. Specifically, sophisticated imaging tools have been developed which reveal significant damage to the brain structure including atrophy, MRI spectroscopy showing variations in neuronal metabolite N-acetyl-aspartate, elevations of membrane related Choline, and the glial metabolite myo-inositol is often observed to be increased post injury. In addition, susceptibility weighted imaging (SWI) has been shown to be more reliable for detecting microbleeds versus calcifications.
We have selected two TBI patients with diffuse traumatic brain injury.
The first patient is a 43-year-old male who suffered severe traumatic brain injury from a motorcycle accident in 2016. Following the accident, the patient was diagnosed with seizures, major depression, and intermittent explosive disorder. He has attempted suicide and has neurobehavioral disinhibition including severe anger, agitation and irritability. He denies psychiatric history prior to TBI and has negative family history. Following the TBI, he became physically aggressive and assaultive in public with minimal provocation. He denies symptoms of thought disorder and mania. He is negative for symptoms of cognitive decline or encephalopathy.
The second patient is a 49-year-old male who suffered at least 3 concussive blasts in the Army and a parachute injury. Following the last accident, the patient was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, panic disorder, PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder. He denies any psychiatric history prior to TBI including negative family history of psychiatric illness. In addition, he now suffers from nervousness, irritability, anger, emotional lability and concurrent concentration issues, problems completing tasks and alterations in memory.
Both patients underwent 1.5T multiparametric MRI using standard T2, FLAIR, DWI and T1 sequences, and specialized sequences including susceptibility weighted (SWAN/SWI), 3D FLAIR, single voxel MRI spectroscopy (MRS), diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), arterial spin labeling perfusion (ASL) and volumetric MRI (NeuroQuant). Importantly, this exam can be performed in 30–45 minutes and requires no injections other than gadolinium in some patients. We will discuss the insights derived from the MRI which detail the injured areas, validate the severity of the brain damage, and provide insight into the psychological, motivational and physical disabilities that afflict these patients. It is our expectation that this kind of imaging study will grow in value as we link specific patterns of injury to specific symptoms and syndromes resulting in more targeted therapies in the future.