Close-head concussive injury, as one of the most common forms of traumatic brain injury (TBI), has been shown to induce cognitive deficits that are long lasting. A concussive impact model was previously established in our lab that produces clinically relevant signs of concussion and induced acute pathological changes in rats. To evaluate the long-term effects of repeated concussions in this model, we utilized a comprehensive Morris water maze (MWM) paradigm for cognitive assessments at 1 and 6 months following repeated concussive impacts in rats. As such, adult Sprague-Dawley rats received either anesthesia (sham) or repeated concussive impacts (4 consecutive impacts at 1 h interval). At 1 month post-injury, results of the spatial learning task showed that the average latencies to locate the hidden “escape” platform were significantly longer in the injured rats over the last 2 days of the MWM testing compared to sham controls (p < 0.05). In the memory retention task, rats subjected to repeated concussive impacts also spent significantly less time in the platform zone searching for the missing platform during the probe trial (p < 0.05). On the working memory task, the injured rats showed a trend toward worse performance, but this failed to reach statistical significance compared to sham controls (p = 0.07). At 6 months post-injury, no differences were detected between the injured group and sham controls in either the spatial learning or probe trials. However, rats with repeated concussive impacts exhibited significantly worsened working memory performance compared to sham controls (p < 0.05). In addition, histopathological assessments for axonal neurodegeneration using silver stain showed that repeated concussive impacts induced significantly more axonal degeneration in the corpus callosum compared to sham controls (p < 0.05) at 1 month post-injury, whereas such difference was not observed at 6 months post-injury. Overall, the results show that repeated concussive impacts in our model produced significant cognitive deficits in both spatial learning abilities and in working memory abilities in a time-dependent fashion that may be indicative of progressive pathology and warrant further investigation.
- Traumatic brain injury