Traumatic brain injury and the frontal lobes: What can we gain with diffusion tensor imaging?

Giuseppe Zappalà, Michel Thiebaut de Schotten, Paul J. Eslinger

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

106 Scopus citations


Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a leading cause of death in the young population and long-term disability in relation to pervasive cognitive-behavioural disturbances that follow frontal lobe damage. To date, emphasis has been placed primarily on the clinical correlates of frontal cortex damage, whilst identification of the contribution of subjacent white matter lesion is less clear. Our poor understanding of white matter pathology in TBI is primarily due to the low sensitivity of conventional neuroimaging to identify pathological changes in less severe traumatic injury and the lack of methods to localise white matter pathology onto individual frontal lobe connections. In this paper we focus on the potential contribution of diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to TBI. Our review of the current literature supports the conclusion that DTI is particularly sensitive to changes in the microstructure of frontal white matter, thus providing a valuable biomarker of the severity of traumatic injury and prognostic indicator of recovery of function. Furthermore we propose an atlas approach to TBI to map white matter lesions onto individual tracts. In the cases presented here we showed a direct correspondence between the clinical manifestations of the patients and the damage to specific white matter tracts. We are confident that in the near future the application of DTI to TBI will improve our understanding of the complex and heterogeneous clinical symptomatology which follows a TBI, especially mild and moderate head injury, which still represents 70-80% of all clinical population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)156-165
Number of pages10
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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