A pinboard by
Emily Dennis

Postdoctoral scholar , University of Southern California


Advanced, multimodal imaging to examine altered connectivity after traumatic brain injury

My project applies advanced, multi-modal connectomics methods to study how traumatic brain injury (TBI) affects the brain longitudinally. TBI is associated with higher risk of developing neurological and psychiatric disorders, and in children and adolescents it can delay or disrupt ongoing brain development. There is considerable heterogeneity in post-injury outcome, which is poorly explained by existing prognostic tools. Biomarkers from advanced connectomics methods that we have developed, including multi-modal data harnessing functional, structural, and neurochemical information will improve our sensitivity for mapping white matter (WM) damage in TBI and predicting outcome. Recently, we discovered a potential imaging biomarker of outcome in our pediatric sample, based on interhemispheric transfer time (IHTT – the time to transfer information from one hemisphere of the brain to the other via the fibers of the corpus callosum). Patients who display slow IHTT show broader disruption in brain structural connectivity, functional connectivity, neurometabolism, and cognitive function, while patients with a normal IHTT appear to recover. Importantly, this effect is not due to demographic or clinical differences, including injury severity. This exciting result has led us to start an international, multi-site study to replicate our study, and by adding analyses of blood and CSF (corticospinal fluid) better understand the underlying causes. Our hope is that this work will identify additional points of intervention, where we might be able to improve outcome for pediatric TBI patients. This multi-site study of pediatric TBI fits into my broader goal of starting an international consortium to examine neuroimaging correlates of TBI. My mentor, Dr. Paul Thompson, has started the ENIGMA Consortium (enhancing neuroimaging genetics through meta-analysis), which involves over 500 researchers around the world collaborating and combining data to improve our power to identify how genetics impact the brain. Within ENIGMA, working groups exist to focus on particular psychiatric or neurological disorders. Considering the heterogeneity of TBI, the traditional patient-control model is not effective – we need to identify patient subgroups based on clinical and imaging variables. ENIGMA-TBI will give us the power to identify these patient subgroups, which is a critical piece of understanding recovery post-injury and developing targeted treatments.

ENIGMA and the individual: Predicting factors that affect the brain in 35 countries worldwide ☆ ☆☆ ★

Abstract: In this review, we discuss recent work by the ENIGMA Consortium (http://enigma.ini.usc.edu) – a global alliance of over 500 scientists spread across 200 institutions in 35 countries collectively analyzing brain imaging, clinical, and genetic data. Initially formed to detect genetic influences on brain measures, ENIGMA has grown to over 30 working groups studying 12 major brain diseases by pooling and comparing brain data. In some of the largest neuroimaging studies to date – of schizophrenia and major depression – ENIGMA has found replicable disease effects on the brain that are consistent worldwide, as well as factors that modulate disease effects. In partnership with other consortia including ADNI, CHARGE, IMAGEN and others1, ENIGMA's genomic screens – now numbering over 30,000 MRI scans – have revealed at least 8 genetic loci that affect brain volumes. Downstream of gene findings, ENIGMA has revealed how these individual variants – and genetic variants in general – may affect both the brain and risk for a range of diseases. The ENIGMA consortium is discovering factors that consistently affect brain structure and function that will serve as future predictors linking individual brain scans and genomic data. It is generating vast pools of normative data on brain measures – from tens of thousands of people – that may help detect deviations from normal development or aging in specific groups of subjects. We discuss challenges and opportunities in applying these predictors to individual subjects and new cohorts, as well as lessons we have learned in ENIGMA's efforts so far.

Pub.: 04 Dec '15, Pinned: 29 Jun '17

Tensor-Based Morphometry Reveals Volumetric Deficits in Moderate=Severe Pediatric Traumatic Brain Injury.

Abstract: Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can cause widespread and prolonged brain degeneration. TBI can affect cognitive function and brain integrity for many years after injury, often with lasting effects in children, whose brains are still immature. Although TBI varies in how it affects different individuals, image analysis methods such as tensor-based morphometry (TBM) can reveal common areas of brain atrophy on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), secondary effects of the initial injury, which will differ between subjects. Here we studied 36 pediatric moderate to severe TBI (msTBI) participants in the post-acute phase (1-6 months post-injury) and 18 msTBI participants who returned for their chronic assessment, along with well-matched controls at both time-points. Participants completed a battery of cognitive tests that we used to create a global cognitive performance score. Using TBM, we created three-dimensional (3D) maps of individual and group differences in regional brain volumes. At both the post-acute and chronic time-points, the greatest group differences were expansion of the lateral ventricles and reduction of the lingual gyrus in the TBI group. We found a number of smaller clusters of volume reduction in the cingulate gyrus, thalamus, and fusiform gyrus, and throughout the frontal, temporal, and parietal cortices. Additionally, we found extensive associations between our cognitive performance measure and regional brain volume. Our results indicate a pattern of atrophy still detectable 1-year post-injury, which may partially underlie the cognitive deficits frequently found in TBI.

Pub.: 24 Sep '15, Pinned: 29 Jun '17

Callosal Function in Pediatric Traumatic Brain Injury Linked to Disrupted White Matter Integrity.

Abstract: Traumatic brain injury (TBI) often results in traumatic axonal injury and white matter (WM) damage, particularly to the corpus callosum (CC). Damage to the CC can lead to impaired performance on neurocognitive tasks, but there is a high degree of heterogeneity in impairment following TBI. Here we examined the relation between CC microstructure and function in pediatric TBI. We used high angular resolution diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) to evaluate the structural integrity of the CC in humans following brain injury in a sample of 32 children (23 males and 9 females) with moderate-to-severe TBI (msTBI) at 1-5 months postinjury, compared with well matched healthy control children. We assessed CC function through interhemispheric transfer time (IHTT) as measured using event-related potentials (ERPs), and related this to DWI measures of WM integrity. Finally, the relation between DWI and IHTT results was supported by additional results of neurocognitive performance assessed using a single composite performance scale. Half of the msTBI participants (16 participants) had significantly slower IHTTs than the control group. This slow IHTT group demonstrated lower CC integrity (lower fractional anisotropy and higher mean diffusivity) and poorer neurocognitive functioning than both the control group and the msTBI group with normal IHTTs. Lower fractional anisotropy-a common sign of impaired WM-and slower IHTTs also predicted poor neurocognitive function. This study reveals that there is a subset of pediatric msTBI patients during the post-acute phase of injury who have markedly impaired CC functioning and structural integrity that is associated with poor neurocognitive functioning.Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the primary cause of death and disability in children and adolescents. There is considerable heterogeneity in postinjury outcome, which is only partially explained by injury severity. Imaging biomarkers may help explain some of this variance, as diffusion weighted imaging is sensitive to the white matter disruption that is common after injury. The corpus callosum (CC) is one of the most commonly reported areas of disruption. In this multimodal study, we discovered a divergence within our pediatric moderate-to-severe TBI sample 1-5 months postinjury. A subset of the TBI sample showed significant impairment in CC function, which is supported by additional results showing deficits in CC structural integrity. This subset also had poorer neurocognitive functioning. Our research sheds light on postinjury heterogeneity.

Pub.: 17 Jul '15, Pinned: 17 Jun '17

White matter disruption in moderate/severe pediatric traumatic brain injury: advanced tract-based analyses.

Abstract: Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the leading cause of death and disability in children and can lead to a wide range of impairments. Brain imaging methods such as DTI (diffusion tensor imaging) are uniquely sensitive to the white matter (WM) damage that is common in TBI. However, higher-level analyses using tractography are complicated by the damage and decreased FA (fractional anisotropy) characteristic of TBI, which can result in premature tract endings. We used the newly developed autoMATE (automated multi-atlas tract extraction) method to identify differences in WM integrity. 63 pediatric patients aged 8-19 years with moderate/severe TBI were examined with cross sectional scanning at one or two time points after injury: a post-acute assessment 1-5 months post-injury and a chronic assessment 13-19 months post-injury. A battery of cognitive function tests was performed in the same time periods. 56 children were examined in the first phase, 28 TBI patients and 28 healthy controls. In the second phase 34 children were studied, 17 TBI patients and 17 controls (27 participants completed both post-acute and chronic phases). We did not find any significant group differences in the post-acute phase. Chronically, we found extensive group differences, mainly for mean and radial diffusivity (MD and RD). In the chronic phase, we found higher MD and RD across a wide range of WM. Additionally, we found correlations between these WM integrity measures and cognitive deficits. This suggests a distributed pattern of WM disruption that continues over the first year following a TBI in children.

Pub.: 05 Mar '15, Pinned: 17 Jun '17

Diverging volumetric trajectories following pediatric traumatic brain injury

Abstract: Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a significant public health concern, and can be especially disruptive in children, derailing on-going neuronal maturation in periods critical for cognitive development. There is considerable heterogeneity in post-injury outcomes, only partially explained by injury severity. Understanding the time course of recovery, and what factors may delay or promote recovery, will aid clinicians in decision-making and provide avenues for future mechanism-based therapeutics. We examined regional changes in brain volume in a pediatric/adolescent moderate-severe TBI (msTBI) cohort, assessed at two time points. Children were first assessed 2–5 months post-injury, and again 12 months later. We used tensor-based morphometry (TBM) to localize longitudinal volume expansion and reduction. We studied 21 msTBI patients (5 F, 8–18 years old) and 26 well-matched healthy control children, also assessed twice over the same interval. In a prior paper, we identified a subgroup of msTBI patients, based on interhemispheric transfer time (IHTT), with significant structural disruption of the white matter (WM) at 2–5 months post injury. We investigated how this subgroup (TBI-slow, N = 11) differed in longitudinal regional volume changes from msTBI patients (TBI-normal, N = 10) with normal WM structure and function. The TBI-slow group had longitudinal decreases in brain volume in several WM clusters, including the corpus callosum and hypothalamus, while the TBI-normal group showed increased volume in WM areas. Our results show prolonged atrophy of the WM over the first 18 months post-injury in the TBI-slow group. The TBI-normal group shows a different pattern that could indicate a return to a healthy trajectory.

Pub.: 31 Mar '17, Pinned: 17 Jun '17

Diverging white matter trajectories in children after traumatic brain injury: The RAPBI study.

Abstract: To examine longitudinal trajectories of white matter organization in pediatric moderate/severe traumatic brain injury (msTBI) over a 12-month period.We studied 21 children (16 M/5 F) with msTBI, assessed 2-5 months postinjury and again 13-19 months postinjury, as well as 20 well-matched healthy control children. We assessed corpus callosum function through interhemispheric transfer time (IHTT), measured using event-related potentials, and related this to diffusion-weighted MRI measures of white matter (WM) microstructure. At the first time point, half of the patients with TBI had significantly slower IHTT (TBI-slow-IHTT, n = 11) and half were in the normal range (TBI-normal-IHTT, n = 10).The TBI-normal-IHTT group did not differ significantly from healthy controls, either in WM organization in the chronic phase or in the longitudinal trajectory of WM organization between the 2 evaluations. In contrast, the WM organization of the TBI-slow-IHTT group was significantly lower than in healthy controls across a large portion of the WM. Longitudinal analyses showed that the TBI-slow-IHTT group experienced a progressive decline between the 2 evaluations in WM organization throughout the brain.We present preliminary evidence suggesting a potential biomarker that identifies a subset of patients with impaired callosal organization in the first months postinjury who subsequently experience widespread continuing and progressive degeneration in the first year postinjury.

Pub.: 17 Mar '17, Pinned: 17 Jun '17