Objective

To investigate differences in cortical thickness in patients with persistent post-traumatic headache (PPTH) relative to healthy controls and to interrogate whether cortical morphology relates to headache burden (headache frequency, years with post-traumatic headache, PTH) in patients with PPTH.

Background

PTHs are one of the most common symptoms following concussion. In some patients, PTHs continue for longer than three months and are classified as PPTH. This study has two main goals: (1) To delineate the neuropathology of PPTH, by interrogating differences in cortical thickness in patients with PPTH relative to healthy controls. (2) To interrogate potential associations between brain morphology and headache burden in patients with PPTH by examining whether cortical thickness relates to frequency of headaches or years lived with PTH.

Methods

Adults with PPTH diagnosed according to ICHD 3 beta diagnostic criteria and healthy controls underwent brain MRI on a 3 Tesla scanner. Vertex-by-vertex whole brain estimates of cortical thickness were automatically calculated using FreeSurfer v5.3. Differences in cortical thickness in patients with PPTH relative to healthy controls were determined using a general linear model design. Associations were explored between regional clusters where patients with PPTH showed cortical thickness differences compared with healthy controls with headache frequency and years lived with PPTH.

Results

This study included 33 patients with PPTH and 33 healthy control subjects (healthy controls: median age = 33.0, IQR = 15.5; patients with PPTH: median age = 36.0, IQR = 20.5; P = .56). Patients with PPTH had less cortical thickness relative to healthy controls in the left and right superior frontal, caudal middle frontal, and precentral cortex as well as less cortical thickness in the right supramarginal, right superior and inferior parietal, and right precuneus region (P < .05, Monte Carlo corrected for multiple comparisons). There were no regions where patients with PPTH had more cortical thickness relative to healthy controls. A correlation analysis of regions that showed less cortical thickness in patients with PPTH demonstrated a negative correlation between left and right superior frontal thickness with headache frequency (P < .05). There was no association between regional cortical thickness and years lived with PPTH.

Conclusion

Compared with healthy controls, patients with PPTH had less cortical thickness in bilateral frontal regions and right hemisphere parietal regions. For patients with PPTH, more frequent headaches were related to less thickness in the left and right superior frontal regions, potentially indicating that brain morphology changes in the superior frontal regions in patients with PPTH are modified by headache frequency.

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