A traumatic axonal injury (TAI) diagnosis has traditionally been based on conventional MRI, especially on those sequences with a higher sensitivity to edema and blood degradation products. A more recent technique, diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), can infer the microstructure of white matter (WM) due to the restricted diffusion of water in organized tissues. However, there is little information regarding the correlation of the findings obtained by both methods and their use for outcome prognosis. The main objectives of this study were threefold: 1) study the correlation between DTI metrics and conventional MRI findings; 2) evaluate whether the prognostic information provided by the two techniques is supplementary or complementary; and 3) determine the incremental value of the addition of these variables compared to a traditional prognostic model.
The authors studied 185 patients with moderate to severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) who underwent MRI with DTI study during the subacute stage. The number and volume of lesions in hemispheric subcortical WM, corpus callosum (CC), basal ganglia, thalamus, and brainstem in at least four conventional MRI sequences (T1-weighted, T2-weighted, FLAIR, T2* gradient recalled echo, susceptibility-weighted imaging, and diffusion-weighted imaging) were determined. Fractional anisotropy (FA) was measured in 28 WM bundles using the region of interest method. Nonparametric tests were used to evaluate the colocalization of macroscopic lesions and FA. A multivariate logistic regression analysis was performed to assess the independent prognostic value of each neuroimaging modality after adjustment for relevant clinical covariates, and the internal validation of the model was evaluated in a contemporary cohort of 92 patients.
Differences in the lesion load between patients according to their severity and outcome were found. Colocalization of macroscopic nonhemorrhagic TAI lesions (not microbleeds) and lower FA was limited to the internal and external capsule, corona radiata, inferior frontooccipital fasciculus, CC, and brainstem. However, a significant association between the FA value and the identification of macroscopic lesions in distant brain regions was also detected. Specifically, lower values of FA of some hemispheric WM bundles and the splenium of the CC were related to a higher number and volume of hyperintensities in the brainstem. The regression analysis revealed that age, motor score, hypoxia, FA of the genu of the CC, characterization of TAI lesions in the CC, and the presence of thalamic/basal ganglia lesions were independent prognostic factors. The performance of the proposed model was higher than that of the IMPACT (International Mission on Prognosis and Analysis of Clinical Trials in TBI) model in the validation cohort.
Very limited colocalization of hyperintensities (none for microbleeds) with FA values was discovered. DTI and conventional MRI provide complementary prognostic information, and their combination can improve the performance of traditional prognostic models.