Computational modelling of traumatic brain injury predicts the location of chronic traumatic encephalopathy pathology

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Abstract

Traumatic brain injury can lead to the neurodegenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy. This condition has a clear neuropathological definition but the relationship between the initial head impact and the pattern of progressive brain pathology is poorly understood. We test the hypothesis that mechanical strain and strain rate are greatest in sulci, where neuropathology is prominently seen in chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and whether human neuroimaging observations converge with computational predictions. Three distinct types of injury were simulated. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy can occur after sporting injuries, so we studied a helmet-to-helmet impact in an American football game. In addition, we investigated an occipital head impact due to a fall from ground level and a helmeted head impact in a road traffic accident involving a motorcycle and a car. A high fidelity 3D computational model of brain injury biomechanics was developed and the contours of strain and strain rate at the grey matter–white matter boundary were mapped. Diffusion tensor imaging abnormalities in a cohort of 97 traumatic brain injury patients were also mapped at the grey matter–white matter boundary. Fifty-one healthy subjects served as controls. The computational models predicted large strain most prominent at the depths of sulci. The volume fraction of sulcal regions exceeding brain injury thresholds were significantly larger than that of gyral regions. Strain and strain rates were highest for the road traffic accident and sporting injury. Strain was greater in the sulci for all injury types, but strain rate was greater only in the road traffic and sporting injuries. Diffusion tensor imaging showed converging imaging abnormalities within sulcal regions with a significant decrease in fractional anisotropy in the patient group compared to controls within the sulci. Our results show that brain tissue deformation induced by head impact loading is greatest in sulcal locations, where pathology in cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy is observed. In addition, the nature of initial head loading can have a significant influence on the magnitude and pattern of injury. Clarifying this relationship is key to understanding the long-term effects of head impacts and improving protective strategies, such as helmet design.

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