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fMRI Shows Increased Thalamus Connectivity in Traumatic Brain Injury Patients, Study

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Digital radiography news In a new study, functional MRI imaging indicated that patients with mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) show abnormal functional connectivity in the thalamus. The latter is a brain structure that transmits information in the brain. The study is highlighted online in the journal Radiology.

Yulin Ge, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Radiology at NYU Langone Medical Center, co-author of the study, said "Using resting-state functional MRI, we found increased functional connectivity of thalamocortical networks in patients following MTBI, due to the subtle injury of the thalamus," Dr. Ge continued "These findings hold promise for better elucidating the underlying cause of a variety of post-traumatic symptoms that are difficult to spot and characterize using conventional imaging methods."

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 1.5 million people suffer traumatic brain injuries in the US annually. After the traumas, several symptoms may appear including a brief unconsciousness, in addition to headaches, dizziness, memory loss, depression and anxiety. Since some of these symptoms may continue for few months or even years, researchers started to design a brain imaging approach to detect any brain abnormalities. The study included comparing the activities of several brain regions. The study also was reviewing communications between networks within the brain.

A number of brain networks are identified as resting state networks (RSNs). There is a baseline brain activity that is noticed when the brain is resting. Dr. Ge said "The RSNs have great potential for studying thalamic dysfunction in several clinical disorders including traumatic brain injury," Resting-state functional MRI (RS-fMRI) has been created to work as an informative tool to review functional activity and connectivity between different brain areas. Dr. Ge said "The disruption of such functional properties is better characterized by RS-fMRI than by conventional diagnostic tools,"

The study involved 24 patients suffering from MTBI and 17 healthy participants as control. All the population of the study underwent RS-fMRI to review their brain activity. The healthy participants had normal pattern of thalamic RSNs with relatively symmetric and restrictive connectivity. On the other hand, patients with MTBI had disturbed pattern showing significantly higher thalamic RSNs and decreased symmetry. Researchers linked this disturbed pattern to clinical symptoms and reduced neurocognitive functions in MTBI patients.

Dr. Ge explained "The thalamic functional networks have multiple functions, including sensory information process and relay, consciousness, cognition, and sleep and wakefulness regulation," adding "The disruption of thalamic RSNs may result in a burning or aching sensation, accompanied by mood swings and sleep disorders, and can contribute to certain psychotic, affective, obsessive-compulsive, anxiety and impulse control disorders. These symptoms are commonly seen in MTBI patients with post-concussive syndrome."

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