Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the most relevant external risk factor for dementia and a major global health burden. Mild TBI (mTBI) contributes to up to 90% of all TBIs, and the classification "mild" often misrepresents the patient's burden who suffer from neuropsychiatric long-term sequelae. Magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) allows in vivo detection of compromised brain metabolism although it is not routinely used after TBI.
Thus, we performed a systematic review and meta-analysis to elucidate if MRS has the potential to identify changes in brain metabolism in adult patients after a single mTBI with a negative routine brain scan (CCT and/or MRI scan) compared to aged- and sex-matched healthy controls (HC) during the acute or subacute postinjury phase (≤90 days after mTBI).
A comprehensive literature search was conducted from the first edition of electronic databases until January 31, 2020. Group analyses were performed per metabolite using a random-effects model.
Four and 2 out of 5,417 articles met the inclusion criteria for the meta-analysis and systematic review, respectively. For the meta-analysis, 50 mTBI patients and 51 HC with a mean age of 31 and 30 years, respectively, were scanned using N-acetyl-aspartate (NAA), a marker for neuronal integrity. Glutamate (Glu), a marker for disturbed brain metabolism, choline (Cho), a marker for increased cell membrane turnover, and creatine (Cr) were used in 2 out of the 4 included articles. Regions of interests were the frontal lobe, the white matter around 1 cm above the lateral ventricles, or the whole brain. NAA was decreased in patients compared to HC with an effect size (ES) of -0.49 (95% CI -1.08 to 0.09), primarily measured in the frontal lobe. Glu was increased in the white matter in 22 mTBI patients compared to 22 HC (ES 0.79; 95% CI 0.17-1.41). Cho was decreased in 31 mTBI patients compared to 31 HC (ES -0.31; 95% CI -0.81 to 0.19). Cr was contradictory and, therefore, potentially not suitable as a reference marker after mTBI.
MRS pinpoints changes in posttraumatic brain metabolism that correlate with cognitive dysfunction and, thus, might possibly help to detect mTBI patients at risk for unfavorable outcome or posttraumatic neurodegeneration early.