UCSF Experts Featured on Sidelined: Sports Concussions

A recent special featuring UCSF Associate Professor of Radiology, Dr. Pratik Mukherjee, M.D., Ph. D., explored the difficulties in using medical imaging technologies to research the effects of concussions on the human brain.  According to the feature, concussions affect 2 million people in the US annually, an overwhelming majority of those sustained through contact sports. Because, the injury and the brain are so complex, and recent research shows that concussions are more harmful than previous research assumed, advanced, new imaging techniques are being introduced.

A novel, state of the art form of MRI, called Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI), is able to spot damage to the brain that has thus far been invisible with CT, the medical imaging technique that has been previously considered the go- to tool for concussions. The DTI measures the rate of water movement along the brain’s bundle of white matter fiber, which Dr. Mukherjee states is “essentially the wiring of the brain.”

Dr. Mukherjee goes on to explain, "The evidence is that the concussions, especially the ones causing rotational injury to the head, cause microscopic damage to these white matter fibers. And that causes a disconnection of brain regions that should be in communication. And that we believe is the cause of the altered thinking, the altered memory, the altered attention that many concussion patients suffer from.”

Further, advanced new radiology imaging tools are drawing attention to other regions of the brain that are susceptible to damage from concussions, including those sustained from athletic injuries. For example, Dr. Mukherjee’s research at UCSF shows that the hippocampus, which plays a critical role in learning and memory formation, may physically shrink post- concussion.

However, Mukherjee stresses the importance of further research being done before the widespread adoption of these new imaging techniques. This will require comprehensive analysis and dedicated funding, but, hopefully, these advanced MRI technologies will assist in more aptly diagnosing and treating the millions of concussions resulting from contact sports and other blows to the head.

For more information on Neuroradiology at UCSF, please see here.