Edlow BL, Haynes RL, Takahashi E, Klein JP, Cummings P, Benner T, Greer DM, Greenberg SM, Wu O, Kinney HC, Folkerth RD. Disconnection of the ascending arousal system in traumatic coma. J Neuropathol Exp Neurol 2013;72(6):505-23.Abstract
    Traumatic coma is associated with disruption of axonal pathways throughout the brain, but the specific pathways involved in humans are incompletely understood. In this study, we used high angular resolution diffusion imaging to map the connectivity of axonal pathways that mediate the 2 critical components of consciousness-arousal and awareness-in the postmortem brain of a 62-year-old woman with acute traumatic coma and in 2 control brains. High angular resolution diffusion imaging tractography guided tissue sampling in the neuropathologic analysis. High angular resolution diffusion imaging tractography demonstrated complete disruption of white matter pathways connecting brainstem arousal nuclei to the basal forebrain and thalamic intralaminar and reticular nuclei. In contrast, hemispheric arousal pathways connecting the thalamus and basal forebrain to the cerebral cortex were only partially disrupted, as were the cortical "awareness pathways." Neuropathologic examination, which used β-amyloid precursor protein and fractin immunomarkers, revealed axonal injury in the white matter of the brainstem and cerebral hemispheres that corresponded to sites of high angular resolution diffusion imaging tract disruption. Axonal injury was also present within the gray matter of the hypothalamus, thalamus, basal forebrain, and cerebral cortex. We propose that traumatic coma may be a subcortical disconnection syndrome related to the disconnection of specific brainstem arousal nuclei from the thalamus and basal forebrain.
    Edlow BL, Giacino JT, Hirschberg RE, Gerrard J, Wu O, Hochberg LR. Unexpected recovery of function after severe traumatic brain injury: the limits of early neuroimaging-based outcome prediction. Neurocrit Care 2013;19(3):364-75.Abstract
    BACKGROUND: Prognostication in the early stage of traumatic coma is a common challenge in the neuro-intensive care unit. We report the unexpected recovery of functional milestones (i.e., consciousness, communication, and community reintegration) in a 19-year-old man who sustained a severe traumatic brain injury. The early magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) findings, at the time, suggested a poor prognosis. METHODS: During the first year of the patient's recovery, MRI with diffusion tensor imaging and T2*-weighted imaging was performed on day 8 (coma), day 44 (minimally conscious state), day 198 (post-traumatic confusional state), and day 366 (community reintegration). Mean apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) and fractional anisotropy values in the corpus callosum, cerebral hemispheric white matter, and thalamus were compared with clinical assessments using the Disability Rating Scale (DRS). RESULTS: Extensive diffusion restriction in the corpus callosum and bihemispheric white matter was observed on day 8, with ADC values in a range typically associated with neurotoxic injury (230-400 × 10(-6 )mm(2)/s). T2*-weighted MRI revealed widespread hemorrhagic axonal injury in the cerebral hemispheres, corpus callosum, and brainstem. Despite the presence of severe axonal injury on early MRI, the patient regained the ability to communicate and perform activities of daily living independently at 1 year post-injury (DRS = 8). CONCLUSIONS: MRI data should be interpreted with caution when prognosticating for patients in traumatic coma. Recovery of consciousness and community reintegration are possible even when extensive traumatic axonal injury is demonstrated by early MRI.
    Edlow BL, Takahashi E, Wu O, Benner T, Dai G, Bu L, Grant PE, Greer DM, Greenberg SM, Kinney HC, Folkerth RD. Neuroanatomic connectivity of the human ascending arousal system critical to consciousness and its disorders. J Neuropathol Exp Neurol 2012;71(6):531-46.Abstract
    The ascending reticular activating system (ARAS) mediates arousal, an essential component of human consciousness. Lesions of the ARAS cause coma, the most severe disorder of consciousness. Because of current methodological limitations, including of postmortem tissue analysis, the neuroanatomic connectivity of the human ARAS is poorly understood. We applied the advanced imaging technique of high angular resolution diffusion imaging (HARDI) to elucidate the structural connectivity of the ARAS in 3 adult human brains, 2 of which were imaged postmortem. High angular resolution diffusion imaging tractography identified the ARAS connectivity previously described in animals and also revealed novel human pathways connecting the brainstem to the thalamus, the hypothalamus, and the basal forebrain. Each pathway contained different distributions of fiber tracts from known neurotransmitter-specific ARAS nuclei in the brainstem. The histologically guided tractography findings reported here provide initial evidence for human-specific pathways of the ARAS. The unique composition of neurotransmitter-specific fiber tracts within each ARAS pathway suggests structural specializations that subserve the different functional characteristics of human arousal. This ARAS connectivity analysis provides proof of principle that HARDI tractography may affect the study of human consciousness and its disorders, including in neuropathologic studies of patients dying in coma and the persistent vegetative state.