Repetitive mild traumatic brain injury induces ventriculomegaly and cortical thinning in juvenile rats
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) most frequently occurs in pediatric patients and remains a leading cause of childhood death and disability. Mild TBI (mTBI) accounts for 70-90% of all TBI cases, yet its neuropathophysiology is still poorly understood. While a single mTBI injury can lead to persistent deficits, repeat injuries increase the severity and duration of both acute symptoms and long term deficits. In this study, to model pediatric repetitive mTBI (rmTBI) we subjected unrestrained juvenile animals (post-natal day 20) to repeat weight drop impact. Animals were anesthetized and subjected to sham or rmTBI once per day for 5 days. At 14 days post injury (PID), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) revealed that rmTBI animals displayed marked cortical atrophy and ventriculomegaly. Specifically, the thickness of the cortex was reduced up to 46% beneath and the ventricles increased up to 970% beneath the impact zone. Immunostaining with the neuron specific marker NeuN revealed an overall loss of neurons within the motor cortex but no change in neuronal density. Examination of intrinsic and synaptic properties of layer II/III pyramidal neurons revealed no significant difference between sham and rmTBI animals at rest or under convulsant challenge with the potassium channel blocker, 4-Aminophyridine. Overall, our findings indicate that the neuropathological changes reported after pediatric rmTBI can be effectively modeled by repeat weight drop in juvenile animals. Developing a better understanding of how rmTBI alters the pediatric brain may help improve patient care and direct "return to game" decision making in adolescents.