Adrian Onicas et al

Advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) techniques indicate that concussion (i.e., mild traumatic brain injury) disrupts brain structure and function in children. However, the functional connectivity of brain regions within global and local networks (i.e., functional connectome) is poorly understood in pediatric concussion. This prospective, longitudinal study addressed this gap using data from the largest neuroimaging study of pediatric concussion to date to study the functional connectome longitudinally after concussion as compared with mild orthopedic injury (OI). Children and adolescents (n = 967) 8–16.99 years with concussion or mild OI were recruited from pediatric emergency departments within 48 h post-injury. Pre-injury and 1-month post-injury symptom ratings were used to classify concussion with or without persistent symptoms based on reliable change. Subjects completed a post-acute (2–33 days) and chronic (3 or 6 months via random assignment) MRI scan. Graph theory metrics were derived from 918 resting-state functional MRI scans in 585 children (386 concussion/199 OI). Linear mixed-effects modeling was performed to assess group differences over time, correcting for multiple comparisons. Relative to OI, the global clustering coefficient was reduced at 3 months post-injury in older children with concussion and in females with concussion and persistent symptoms. Time post-injury and sex moderated group differences in local (regional) network metrics of several brain regions, including degree centrality, efficiency, and clustering coefficient of the angular gyrus, calcarine fissure, cuneus, and inferior occipital, lingual, middle occipital, post-central, and superior occipital gyrus. Relative to OI, degree centrality and nodal efficiency were reduced post-acutely, and nodal efficiency and clustering coefficient were reduced chronically after concussion (i.e., at 3 and 6 months post-injury in females; at 6 months post-injury in males). Functional network alterations were more robust and widespread chronically as opposed to post-acutely after concussion, and varied by sex, age, and symptom recovery at 1-month post-injury. Local network segregation reductions emerged globally (across the whole brain network) in older children and in females with poor recovery chronically after concussion. Reduced functioning between neighboring regions could negatively disrupt specialized information processing. Local network metric alterations were demonstrated in several posterior regions that are involved in vision and attention after concussion relative to OI. This indicates that functioning of superior parietal and occipital regions could be particularly susceptibile to the effects of concussion. Moreover, those regional alterations were especially apparent at later time periods post-injury, emerging after post-concussive symptoms resolved in most and persisted up to 6 months post-injury, and differed by biological sex. This indicates that neurobiological changes continue to occur up to 6 months after pediatric concussion, although changes emerge earlier in females than in males. Changes could reflect neural compensation mechanisms.