Catecholamines and cognition after traumatic brain injury

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Abstract

Cognitive problems are one of the main causes of ongoing disability after traumatic brain injury. The heterogeneity of the injuries sustained and the variability of the resulting cognitive deficits makes treating these problems difficult. Identifying the underlying pathology allows a targeted treatment approach aimed at cognitive enhancement. For example, damage to neuromodulatory neurotransmitter systems is common after traumatic brain injury and is an important cause of cognitive impairment. Here, we discuss the evidence implicating disruption of the catecholamines (dopamine and noradrenaline) and review the efficacy of catecholaminergic drugs in treating post-traumatic brain injury cognitive impairments. The response to these therapies is often variable, a likely consequence of the heterogeneous patterns of injury as well as a non-linear relationship between catecholamine levels and cognitive functions. This individual variability means that measuring the structure and function of a person’s catecholaminergic systems is likely to allow more refined therapy. Advanced structural and molecular imaging techniques offer the potential to identify disruption to the catecholaminergic systems and to provide a direct measure of catecholamine levels. In addition, measures of structural and functional connectivity can be used to identify common patterns of injury and to measure the functioning of brain ‘networks’ that are important for normal cognitive functioning. As the catecholamine systems modulate these cognitive networks, these measures could potentially be used to stratify treatment selection and monitor response to treatment in a more sophisticated manner.

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