A Preliminary DTI Tractography Study of Developmental Neuroplasticity 5-15 Years After Early Childhood Traumatic Brain Injury

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December 2021


Frontiers in Neurology

CLI Author:

Linda Ewing-Cobbs, PhD


Plasticity is often implicated as a reparative mechanism when addressing structural and functional brain development in young children following traumatic brain injury (TBI); however, conventional imaging methods may not capture the complexities of post-trauma development. The present study examined the cingulum bundles and perforant pathways using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) in 21 children and adolescents (ages 10-18 years) 5-15 years after sustaining early childhood TBI in comparison with 19 demographically-matched typically-developing children. Verbal memory and executive functioning were also evaluated and analyzed in relation to DTI metrics. Beyond the expected direction of quantitative DTI metrics in the TBI group, we also found qualitative differences in the streamline density of both pathways generated from DTI tractography in over half of those with early TBI. These children exhibited hypertrophic cingulum bundles relative to the comparison group, and the number of tract streamlines negatively correlated with age at injury, particularly in the late-developing anterior regions of the cingulum; however, streamline density did not relate to executive functioning. Although streamline density of the perforant pathway was not related to age at injury, streamline density of the left perforant pathway was significantly and positively related to verbal memory scores in those with TBI, and a moderate effect size was found in the right hemisphere. DTI tractography may provide insight into developmental plasticity in children post-injury. While traditional DTI metrics demonstrate expected relations to Wilde et al. Neuroplasticity 5-15 Years After Early TBI cognitive performance in group-based analyses, altered growth is reflected in the white matter structures themselves in some children several years post-injury. Whether this plasticity is adaptive or maladaptive, and whether the alterations are structure-specific, warrants further investigation.


Wilde, Elisabeth & Hyseni, Ilirjana & Lindsey, Hannah & Faber, Jessica & Mchenry, James & Bigler, Erin & Biekman, Brian & Hollowell, Laura & Mccauley, Stephen & Hunter, Jill & Ewing-Cobbs, Linda & Aitken, Mary & Macleod, Marianne & Chu, Zili & Noble-Haeusslein, Linda & Levin, Harvey. (2021). A Preliminary DTI Tractography Study of Developmental Neuroplasticity 5-15 Years After Early Childhood Traumatic Brain Injury. Frontiers in Neurology. 12. 734055. 10.3389/fneur.2021.734055.