High-definition fiber tracking for assessment of neurological deficit in a case of traumatic brain injury: finding, visualizing, and interpreting small sites of damage

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  • 1 Departments of Neurological Surgery and
  • | 4 Radiology, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center; and
  • | 3 Department of Psychiatry, and
  • | 2 Learning Research and Development Center, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
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For patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI), current clinical imaging methods generally do not provide highly detailed information about the location of axonal injury, severity of injury, or expected recovery. In a case of severe TBI, the authors applied a novel high-definition fiber tracking (HDFT) to directly visualize and quantify the degree of axonal fiber damage and predict functional deficits due to traumatic axonal injury and loss of cortical projections.

This 32-year-old man sustained a severe TBI. Computed tomography and MRI revealed an area of hemorrhage in the basal ganglia with mass effect, but no specific information on the location of axonal injury could be obtained from these studies. Examinations of the patient at Week 3 and Week 8 after TBI revealed motor weaknesses of the left extremities. Four months postinjury, 257-direction diffusion spectrum imaging and HDFT analysis was performed to evaluate the degree of axonal damage in the motor pathway and quantify asymmetries in the left and right axonal pathways. High-definition fiber tracking was used to follow corticospinal and corona radiata pathways from the cortical surface to the midbrain and quantify projections from motor areas. Axonal damage was then localized by assessing the number of descending fibers at the level of the cortex, internal capsule, and midbrain. The motor deficit apparent in the clinical examinations correlated with the axonal losses visualized using HDFT. Fiber loss estimates at 4 months postinjury accurately predicted the nature of the motor deficits (severe, focal left-hand weakness) when other standard clinical imaging modalities did not. A repeat scan at 10 months postinjury, when edema and hemorrhage had receded, replicated the fiber loss.

Using HDFT, the authors accurately identified the presence and location of damage to the underlying white matter in this patient with TBI. Detailed information of injury provided by this novel technique holds future potential for precise neuroimaging assessment of TBI.

Abbreviations used in this paper:

DTI = diffusion tensor imaging; FA = fractional anisotropy; HDFT = high-definition fiber tracking; TBI = traumatic brain injury.

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Contributor Notes

Address correspondence to: David O. Okonkwo, M.D., Department of Neurological Surgery, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, UPMC Presbyterian, Suite B-400, 200 Lothrop Street, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213. email: okonkwodo@upmc.edu.

Please include this information when citing this paper: published online March 2, 2012; DOI: 10.3171/2012.1.JNS111282.

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