White Matter Damage Lingers Months After Concussion

MRI scan
MRI scan
The changes in white matter negatively correlated with acute concussion symptoms.

Even after clinical symptoms have resolved, athletes with concussion show significant alterations in white matter 6 months post-injury.

The findings from the small study were presented at the 2016 AAN Sports Concussion Conference in Chicago, July 8-10, 2016.

Previous research has indicated that concussion produces acute anatomical and physiological changes to the brain; however the duration of these changes is not known. To examine the impact of concussion on white matter tracts – which are especially vulnerable to traumatic brain injury – over time, Melissa Lancaster, PhD, of the Medical College of Wisconsin, and colleagues conducted diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and diffusion kurtosis tensor imaging (DKTI) in 17 high school and college football players.

The participants (mean age = 17.4 years; SD = 1.7) as well as 18 matched control athletes (mean age = 17.7 years; SD = 1.7) underwent DTI, DKTI, and an assessment of clinical symptoms, balance, and cognition at 24 hours, 8 days, and 6 months post-injury. DTI and DKTI were analyzed via Tract-Based Spatial Statistics, while Pearson correlations were used to compare imaging findings to acute concussion severity measures.

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Six months after the concussion, the researchers found there to be no differences between self-reported symptoms of concussion, cognition, or balance between the 2 groups. However, the researchers did observe widespread decreased mean diffusivity (MD) at 6 months in the concussion group compared to controls, which correlated with acute DTI findings. Further, MD at 6 months in the concussion group correlated negatively with acute concussion symptoms.

The authors noted that the findings could have implications for assessment of recovery after concussion, as well as concussion management.


This project was supported by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health (8UL1TR000055 and 1UL1-RR031973-01), the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (W81XWH-12-1-0004), and the NFLGE Head Health Challenge I. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH, DOD/US Army, NFL, or GE.


Lancaster M, Muftuler T, Olson D, LaRoche A, Nelson L, McCrea M. Chronic White Matter Changes Following Sport-related Concussion Measured by Diffusion Tensor and Diffusion Kurtosis Imaging. Presented at: AAN Sports Concussion Conference 2016; Chicago, IL; July 8-10, 2016.