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Frontal Lobe Changes after Severe Diffuse Closed Head Injury in Children: A Volumetric Study of Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Berryhill, Phillip B.A.; Lilly, Matthew A. M.A.; Levin, Harvey S. Ph.D.; Hillman, Gilbert R. Ph.D.; Mendelsohn, Dianne M.D.; Brunder, Donald G. Ph.D.; Fletcher, Jack M. Ph.D.; Kufera, Joseph M.A.; Kent, Thomas A. M.D.; Yeakley, Joel M.D.; Bruce, Derek M.D.; Eisenberg, Howard M. M.D.

Clinical Study

IN VIEW OF the pathophysiology and biomechanics of severe closed head injury (CHI) in children, we postulated that the frontal lobes sustain diffuse injury, even in the absence of focal brain lesions detected by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This study quantitated the morphological effects of CHI on the frontal lobes in children who sustained head trauma of varying severity. The MRI findings of 14 children who had sustained severe CHIs (Glasgow Coma Scale score of ≤8) were compared with the findings in a matched group of 14 children having sustained mild head injuries (Glasgow Coma Scale score of 13–15). The patients ranged in age from 5 to 15 years at the time of their MRIs, which were acquired at least 3 months postinjury. MRI findings revealed no focal areas of abnormal signal in the frontal lobes. Volumetric analysis disclosed that the total prefrontal cerebrospinal fluid increased and the gray matter volume decreased in the patients with severe CHI, relative to the mildly injured comparison group. Gray matter volume was also reduced in the orbitofrontal and dorsolateral regions of the brains of children with severe CHI, relative to the children who sustained mild head trauma. These volumetric findings indicate that prefrontal tissue loss occurs after severe CHI in children, even in the absence of focal brain lesions in this area. Nearly two-thirds of the children who sustained severe CHIs were moderately disabled after an average postinjury interval of 3 years or more, whereas 12 of the 14 patients with mild CHIs attained a good recovery (2 were moderately disabled) by the time of study. Although this initial study of brain morphometry after CHI in children was not designed to isolate the contribution of frontal lobe damage to residual disability, further research involving a larger sample is in progress to address this issue.

Division of Neurosurgery, University of Maryland Medical System (PB, MAL, HSL, JK, HME), Baltimore, Maryland; Departments of Pharmacology (GRH), Computer Science (DGB), and Neurology (TAK), University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas; Algur H. Meadows Diagnostic Imaging Center, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (DM), Dallas, Texas; Department of Pediatrics, University of Texas School of Medicine (JMF), Houston, Texas; Division of Radiology, University of Texas Health Science Center (JY), Houston, Texas; and Neurosurgeons for Children, Pediatric Associates (DB), Dallas, Texas

Reprint requests: Harvey S. Levin, Ph.D., Division of Neurosurgery, University of Maryland Medical System, 22 South Greene Street, Baltimore, MD 21201.

Received, September 12, 1994. Accepted, March 20, 1995.

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