Research Reports - Altered structural networks and executive deficits in traumatic brain injury patients

Brain Struct Funct. 2014 Jan;219(1):193-209

Caeyenberghs K, Leemans A, Leunissen I, Gooijers J, Michiels K, Sunaert S, Swinnen SP

Recent research on traumatic brain injury (TBI) has shown that impairments in
cognitive and executive control functions are accompanied by a disrupted neural
connectivity characterized by white matter damage. We constructed binary and
weighted brain structural networks in 21 patients with chronic TBI and 17 healthy
young adults utilizing diffusion tensor tractography and calculated topological
properties of the networks using a graph theoretical method. Executive function
was assessed with the local global task and the trail making task, requiring
inhibition, updating, and switching. The results revealed that TBI patients were
less successful than controls on the executive tasks, as shown by the higher
reaction times, higher switch costs, and lower accuracy rates. Moreover, both TBI
patients and controls exhibited a small world topology in their white matter
networks. More importantly, the TBI patients demonstrated increased shortest path
length and decreased global efficiency of the structural network. These findings
suggest that TBI patients have a weaker globally integrated structural brain
network, resulting in a limited capacity to integrate information across brain
regions. Furthermore, we showed that the white matter networks of both groups
contained highly connected hub regions that were predominately located in the
parietal cortex, frontal cortex, and basal ganglia. Finally, we showed
significant correlations between switching performance and network property
metrics within the TBI group. Specifically, lower scores on the switching tasks
corresponded to a lower global efficiency. We conclude that analyzing the
structural brain network connectivity provides new insights into understanding
cognitive control changes following brain injury.

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