Concussed Brains Show Alzheimer’s-Like Abnormalities
“Findings of MTBI bear a striking resemblance to those seen in early Alzheimer’s dementia,” said the study’s lead author, Saeed Fakhran, M.D., assistant professor of radiology in the Division of Neuroradiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “Additional research may help further elucidate a link between these two disease processes.”
MTBI, or concussion, affects more than 1.7 million people in the United States annually. Despite the name, these injuries are by no means mild, with approximately 15 percent of concussion patients suffering persistent neurological symptoms.
“Sleep-wake disturbances are among the earliest findings of Alzheimer’s patients, and are also seen in a subset of MTBI patients,” Dr. Fakhran said. “Furthermore, after concussion, many patients have difficulty filtering out white noise and concentrating on the important sounds, making it hard for them to understand the world around them. Hearing problems are not only an independent risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease, but the same type of hearing problem seen in MTBI patients has been found to predict which patients with memory problems will go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease.”
For the study, Dr. Fakhran and colleagues set out to determine if there was a relationship between white matter injury patterns and severity of post-concussion symptoms in MTBI patients with normal findings on conventional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams. The researchers studied data from imaging exams performed on 64 MTBI patients and 15 control patients, using an advanced MRI technique called diffusion tensor imaging, which identifies microscopic changes in the brain’s white matter.
The brain’s white matter is composed of millions of nerve fibers called axons that act like communication cables connecting various regions of the brain. Diffusion tensor imaging produces a measurement, called fractional anisotropy, of the movement of water molecules along axons. In healthy white matter, the direction of water movement is fairly uniform and measures high in fractional anisotropy. When water movement is more random, fractional anisotropy values decrease.