Targeted Treatment to the Thalamus Can Have Successful Results in Patients with Traumatic Brain Injuries

Melanie Karniewich ’25

Figure 1. A brain scan can identify different issues going on with someone’s brain functions.

Brain injuries are becoming more common, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions that are asked in the aftermath of a traumatic brain injury (TBI). One issue researchers are trying to resolve is whether a patient will awaken after a TBI, and if so, how long awakening takes. Assistant professors Sima Mofakham (Department of Surgery and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering) and Charles Mikell (Department of Neurosurgery) from the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University investigated brain functions following a TBI.

There were fifteen patients in this study—eleven males and four females—all aged between 24 and 84. The thalamus, located near the center of the brain, controls consciousness, learning, memory, and sleep, and also sends connections to the prefrontal cortex for everyday functions to happen. Mofakham and Mikell found predictable brain activity in those with injuries to their thalami. Those with injured thalami had limited behaviors, most likely resulting from the damage they received from their TBI. Having identified the connection between TBIs and the thalamus, the researchers performed MRI scans on the patients, which focused specifically on the timeframe of when they awakened, the outcome at discharge, and six months following the TBI. The two components to be classified were the clinical outcome and the quality of the thalamus-prefrontal circuits. Each patient’s average fractional anisotropy (FA) (level of tissue decay) in the thalamus was found; low FA numbers had a mean of 148 and high FA numbers had a mean of 189. These numbers determined how strong a TBI patient’s thalamus would be during the recovery period. The researchers concluded low FA values were correlated with a less stable connection of the thalamus, while patients with high FA values still had a protected connection. To have the best recovery possible, a patient would need to have a specific targeted treatment to the thalamus to receive positive circuit strength and produce functioning behaviors after a TBI, but the correct measures have not yet been found.  

Mofakham and Mikell published a total of three papers to follow the research of traumatic brain injuries, this being the final of the three. As brain injuries become more common, there would need to be new approaches to be sought out in the neuroscience field.

Works Cited:

[1] C. Mikell, et al., Injury to thalamocortical projections following traumatic brain injury results in attractor dynamics for cortical networks. Progress in Neurobiology 210, 1-10 (2022). Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pneurobio.2022.102215

[2] Image retrieved from https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-photo-of-a-digital-image-7088489/

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