White Matter Alterations in Military Service Members with Remote Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

Sharon Kim, John Ollinger, Chihwa Song, Sorana Raiciulescu, Srija Seenivasan, Aaron Wolfgang, J. Kent Werner, Ping Hong Yeh*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Importance: Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) is the signature injury experienced by military service members and is associated with poor neuropsychiatric outcomes. Yet, there is a lack of reliable clinical tools for mTBI diagnosis and prognosis. Objective: To examine the white matter microstructure and neuropsychiatric outcomes of service members with a remote history of mTBI (ie, mTBI that occurred over 2 years ago) using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging (NODDI). Design, Setting, and Participants: This case-control study examined 98 male service members enrolled in a study at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence. Eligible participants were active duty status or able to enroll in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting system, ages 18 to 60 years, and had a remote history of mTBI; controls were matched by age. Exposures: Remote history of mTBI. Main Outcomes and Measures: White matter microstructure was assessed using a region-of-interest approach of skeletonized diffusion images, including DTI (fractional anisotropy, mean diffusivity, radial diffusivity and axial diffusivity) and NODDI (orientation dispersion index [ODI], isotropic volume fraction, intra-cellular volume fraction). Neuropsychiatric outcomes associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and postconcussion syndrome were assessed. Results: A total of 65 male patients with a remote history of mTBI (mean [SD] age, 40.5 [5.0] years) and 33 age-matched male controls (mean [SD] age, 38.9 [5.6] years) were included in analysis. Compared with the control cohort, the 65 service members with mTBI presented with significantly more severe PTSD-like symptoms (mean [SD] PTSD CheckList-Civilian [PCL-C] version scores: control, 19.0 [3.8] vs mTBI, 41.2 [11.6]; P <.001). DTI and NODDI metrics were altered in the mTBI group compared with the control, including intra-cellular volume fraction of the right cortico-spinal tract (β = -0.029, Cohen d = 0.66; P <.001), ODI of the left posterior thalamic radiation (β = -0.006, Cohen d = 0.55; P <.001), and ODI of the left uncinate fasciculus (β = 0.013, Cohen d = 0.61; P <.001). In service members with mTBI, fractional anisotropy of the left uncinate fasciculus was associated with postconcussion syndrome (β = 5.4 × 10-3; P =.003), isotropic volume fraction of the genu of the corpus callosum with PCL-C (β = 4.3 × 10-4; P =.01), and ODI of the left fornix and stria terminalis with PCL-C avoidance scores (β = 1.2 × 10-3; P =.02). Conclusions and Relevance: In this case-control study of military-related mTBI, the results suggest that advanced magnetic resonance imaging techniques using NODDI can reveal white matter microstructural alterations associated with neuropsychiatric symptoms in the chronic phase of mTBI. Diffusion trends observed throughout widespread white matter regions-of-interest may reflect mechanisms of neurodegeneration as well as postinjury tissue scarring and reorganization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E248121
JournalJAMA Network Open
Issue number4
StatePublished - 18 Apr 2024
Externally publishedYes


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