Long-term clinical outcome after traumatic brain injury (TBI) is predicated upon a large variety of often poorly understood factors which substantially complicate the task of identifying the relationship between acute clinical variables and chronic functional deficits. Nevertheless, understanding how post-TBI cortical atrophy patterns reflect acute-stage patient presentation may help to identify cortical areas that are likely to undergo substantial atrophy, and implicitly to isolate aspects of cognitive, affective and neural function which are at highest risk for long-term degradation.
Attempts to relate TBI-related changes in brain structure to clinical variables often involve structural brain variables provided by neuroimaging methodologies, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) (1–3). In previous studies, quantitative metrics provided by acute neuroimaging of TBI patients have been used to describe the relationship between acute injury profiles and chronic dysfunction (4–7). By contrast, hardly any non-neuroimaging clinical variables have been identified which can be used to elucidate the pattern of structural brain changes after TBI. Nevertheless, the ability to incorporate such non-neuroimaging clinical descriptors into outcome forecasting models is important because many such descriptors—including the Glasgow Coma Score (GCS)—are recorded routinely by clinicians and relied upon during the treatment decision-making process.
In this study, we illustrate how two important TBI severity indicators that are routinely assessed by clinicians in the acute care setting and without the use of neuroimaging can be used to relate patient presentation in the acute stage of TBI to the pattern and extent of post-TBI cortical atrophy as well as to neurological outcome. These two indicators—the GCS and the occurrence of epileptic seizures during the acute stage of TBI—can likely assist in predicting cortical atrophy patterns and in evaluating the risk for poor neurological outcome. This study additionally identifies cortical regions whose susceptibility to post-traumatic atrophy is correlated significantly and reliably—in a statistical sense—with functional outcome and with clinical descriptors of TBI severity. […]