Thalamic atrophy in antero-medial and dorsal nuclei correlates with six-month outcome after severe brain injury

Evan S. Lutkenhoff, David L. McArthur, Xue Hua, Paul M. Thompson, Paul M. Vespa, Martin M. Monti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


The primary and secondary damage to neural tissue inflicted by traumatic brain injury is a leading cause of death and disability. The secondary processes, in particular, are of great clinical interest because of their potential susceptibility to intervention. We address the dynamics of tissue degeneration in cortico-subcortical circuits after severe brain injury by assessing volume change in individual thalamic nuclei over the first six-months post-injury in a sample of 25 moderate to severe traumatic brain injury patients. Using tensor-based morphometry, we observed significant localized thalamic atrophy over the six-month period in antero-dorsal limbic nuclei as well as in medio-dorsal association nuclei. Importantly, the degree of atrophy in these nuclei was predictive, even after controlling for full-brain volume change, of behavioral outcome at six-months post-injury. Furthermore, employing a data-driven decision tree model, we found that physiological measures, namely the extent of atrophy in the anterior thalamic nucleus, were the most predictive variables of whether patients had regained consciousness by six-months, followed by behavioral measures. Overall, these findings suggest that the secondary non-mechanical degenerative processes triggered by severe brain injury are still ongoing after the first week post-trauma and target specifically antero-medial and dorsal thalamic nuclei. This result therefore offers a potential window of intervention, and a specific target region, in agreement with the view that specific cortico-thalamo-cortical circuits are crucial to the maintenance of large-scale network neural activity and thereby the restoration of cognitive function after severe brain injury.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)396-404
Number of pages9
JournalNeuroImage: Clinical
StatePublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Tensor brain morphometry
  • Thalamus
  • Traumatic brain injury


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