October 3, 2023

Brain Commun. 2023 Jul 27;5(4):fcad201. doi: 10.1093/braincomms/fcad201. eCollection 2023.


Special Operations Forces combat soldiers sustain frequent blast and blunt neurotrauma, most often classified as mild traumatic brain injuries. Exposure to repetitive mild traumatic brain injuries is associated with persistent behavioural, cognitive, emotional and neurological symptoms later in life. Identifying neurophysiological changes associated with mild traumatic brain injury exposure, in the absence of present-day symptoms, is necessary for detecting future neurological risk. Advancements in graph theory and functional MRI have offered novel ways to analyse complex whole-brain network connectivity. Our purpose was to determine how mild traumatic brain injury history, lifetime incidence and recency affected whole-brain graph theoretical outcome measures. Healthy male Special Operations Forces combat soldiers (age = 33.2 ± 4.3 years) underwent multimodal neuroimaging at a biomedical research imaging centre using 3T Siemens Prisma or Biograph MRI scanners in this cross-sectional study. Anatomical and functional scans were preprocessed. The blood-oxygen-level-dependent signal was extracted from each functional MRI time series using the Big Brain 300 atlas. Correlations between atlas regions were calculated and Fisher z-transformed to generate subject-level correlation matrices. The Brain Connectivity Toolbox was used to obtain functional network measures for global efficiency (the average inverse shortest path length), local efficiency (the average global efficiency of each node and its neighbours), and assortativity coefficient (the correlation coefficient between the degrees of all nodes on two opposite ends of a link). General linear models were fit to compare mild traumatic brain injury lifetime incidence and recency. Nonparametric ANOVAs were used for tests on non-normally distributed data. Soldiers with a history of mild traumatic brain injury had significantly lower assortativity than those who did not self-report mild traumatic brain injury (t148 = 2.44, P = 0.016). The assortativity coefficient was significantly predicted by continuous mild traumatic brain injury lifetime incidence [F1,144 = 6.51, P = 0.012]. No differences were observed between recency groups, and no global or local efficiency differences were observed between mild traumatic brain injury history and lifetime incidence groups. Brain networks with greater assortativity have more resilient, interconnected hubs, while those with lower assortativity indicate widely distributed, vulnerable hubs. Greater lifetime mild traumatic brain injury incidence predicted lower assortativity in our study sample. Less resilient brain networks may represent a lack of physiological recovery in mild traumatic brain injury patients, who otherwise demonstrate clinical recovery, more vulnerability to future brain injury and increased risk for accelerated age-related neurodegenerative changes. Future longitudinal studies should investigate whether decreased brain network resilience may be a predictor for long-term neurological dysfunction.

PMID:37545546 | PMC:PMC10400114 | DOI:10.1093/braincomms/fcad201