The finding, published in Radiology, suggests that the first traumatic event that causes mTBI, or concussion, can result in a pattern of degenerative changes in the brain - causing symptoms that are similar to degenerative changes seen in early Alzheimer's.
White matter found in the brain consists of long, finger-like fibers that come out of nerve cells and are covered by a whitish fatty material. Gray matter is the part of the brain without the fatty covering and contains our knowledge. White matter is what connects different areas of gray matter, permitting different parts of the brain to communicate.
The researchers, from the University of Pittsburgh, wondered whether there might be a relationship between white matter injury patterns and the levels of post-concussion symptoms in mTBI patients with normal outcomes on conventional MRI exams.
They assessed data from imaging exams performed on 64 mTBI patients and 15 control patients using an advanced MRI technique known as diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), which pinpoints changes in the brain's white matter.
Saeed Fakhran, M.D., assistant professor of radiology at the University of Pittsburgh said:
"In the past, we believed that patients with mTBI have symptoms because of abnormalities secondary to the initial injury. Our preliminary findings suggest that the initial event causing the concussion is like lighting a fuse, acting as a trigger for a sequence of degenerative changes resulting in patient symptoms that could potentially be prevented."
Sleep-wake disturbances (SWD) are one of the most exhausting post-concussive symptoms, impacting the quality of life and productivity of patients, and emphasizing post-concussion social and memory dysfunction.
These disruptions are some of the earliest symptoms in people with Alzheimer's and are also seen in mTBI patients. Also, many mTBI patients have a hard time ignoring white noise and focusing on important sounds - making the world around them harder to understand.
Issues with hearing are a separate risk factor for the development of Alzheimer's disease, and the same kind of problem in mTBI patients has predicted which people with memory issues will then develop Alzheimer's disease.
Dr. Fakhran concluded:
"For this study, we looked back, analyzing images of injuries. In further research, we hope to recruit patients immediately after their injury and watch brain changes as they occur over time. The first step in developing a treatment for any disease is understanding what causes it, and if we can prove a link, or even a common pathway, between mTBI and Alzheimer's it could potentially lead to effective treatment strategies for both diseases."
Written by Kelly Fitzgerald