Acute and Chronic Effects of Multiple Concussions on Midline Brain Structures

Background and Objectives

To test the hypothesis that a history of concussion (HOC) causes greater disturbances in cerebral blood flow (CBF) and white matter microstructure of midline brain structures after subsequent concussions, during the acute and chronic phases of recovery.

Methods

In this longitudinal MRI study, 61 athletes with uncomplicated concussion (36 with HOC) were imaged at the acute phase of injury (1–7 days after injury), the subacute phase (8–14 days), medical clearance to return to play (RTP), 1 month after RTP, and 1 year after RTP. A normative group of 167 controls (73 with HOC) were also imaged. Each session assessed CBF of the cingulate cortex, along with fractional anisotropy (FA) and mean diffusivity (MD) of the corpus callosum. Linear mixed models tested for interactions of HOC with time since injury. The Sport Concussion Assessment Tool (SCAT) was also used to evaluate effects of HOC on symptoms, cognition, and balance.

Results

Athletes with HOC had significantly greater declines in midcingulate CBF subacutely (z = –3.29, p = 0.002) and greater declines in posterior cingulate CBF at 1 year after RTP (z = –2.42, p = 0.007). No significant effects of HOC were seen for FA, whereas athletes with HOC had higher MD of the splenium at RTP (z = 2.54, p = 0.008). These effects were seen in the absence of significant differences in SCAT domains (|z| ≤ 1.14, p ≥ 0.256) or time to RTP (z = 0.23, p = 0.818).

Discussion

Results indicate subacute and chronic effects of HOC on cingulate CBF and callosal microstructure in the absence of differences in clinical indices. These findings provide new insights into physiologic brain recovery after concussion, with cumulative effects of repeated injury detected among young, healthy athletes.

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