Linked MRI signatures of the brain's acute and persistent response to concussion in female varsity rugby players
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© 2018 The Authors Acute brain changes are expected after concussion, yet there is growing evidence of persistent abnormalities well beyond clinical recovery and clearance to return to play. Multiparametric MRI is a powerful approach to non-invasively study structure-function relationships in the brain, however it remains challenging to interpret the complex and heterogeneous cascade of brain changes that manifest after concussion. Emerging conjunctive, data-driven analysis approaches like linked independent component analysis can integrate structural and functional imaging data to produce linked components that describe the shared inter-subject variance across images. These linked components not only offer the potential of a more comprehensive understanding of the underlying neurobiology of concussion, but can also provide reliable information at the level of an individual athlete. In this study, we analyzed resting-state functional MRI (rs-fMRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) within a cohort of female varsity rugby players (n = 52) through the in- and off-season, including concussed athletes (n = 21) who were studied longitudinally at three days, three months and six months after a diagnosed concussion. Linked components representing co-varying white matter microstructure and functional network connectivity characterized (a) the brain's acute response to concussion and (b) persistent alterations beyond clinical recovery. Furthermore, we demonstrate that these long-term brain changes related to specific aspects of a concussion history and allowed us to monitor individual athletes before and longitudinally after a diagnosed concussion.