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Diffuse Axonal Injury Grade on Early MRI is Associated with Worse Outcome in Children with Moderate-Severe Traumatic Brain Injury.

BACKGROUND: Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the leading cause of death and disability in children, but effective tools for predicting outcome remain elusive. Although many pediatric patients receive early magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), data on its utility in prognostication are lacking. Diffuse axonal injury (DAI) is a hallmark of TBI detected on early MRI and was shown previously to improve prognostication in adult patients with TBI. In this exploratory study, we investigated whether DAI grade correlates with functional outcome and improves prognostic accuracy when combined with core clinical variables and computed tomography (CT) biomarkers in pediatric patients with moderate-severe TBI (msTBI).

METHODS: Pediatric patients (≤ 19 years) who were admitted to two regional level one trauma centers with a diagnosis of msTBI (Glasgow Coma Scale [GCS] score < 13) between 2011 and 2019 were identified through retrospective chart review. Patients who underwent brain MRI within 30 days of injury and had documented clinical follow-up after discharge were included. Age, pupil reactivity, and initial motor GCS score were collected as part of the International Mission for Prognosis and Analysis of Clinical Trials in TBI (IMPACT) model. Imaging was reviewed to calculate the Rotterdam score (CT) and DAI grade (MRI) and to evaluate for presence of hypoxic-ischemic injury (MRI). The primary outcome measure was the Pediatric Cerebral Performance Category Scale (PCPCS) score at 6 months after TBI, with favorable outcome defined as PCPCS scores 1-3 and unfavorable outcome defined as PCPCS scores 4-6. The secondary outcome measure was discharge disposition to home versus to an inpatient rehabilitation facility.

RESULT: Of 55 patients included in the study, 45 (82%) had severe TBI. The most common mechanism of injury was motor vehicle collision (71%). Initial head CT scans showed acute hemorrhage in 84% of patients. MRI was acquired a median of 5 days after injury, and hemorrhagic DAI lesions were detected in 87% of patients. Each 1-point increase in DAI grade increased the odds of unfavorable functional outcome by 2.4-fold. When controlling for core IMPACT clinical variables, neither the DAI grade nor the Rotterdam score was independently correlated with outcome and neither significantly improved outcome prediction over the IMPACT model alone.

CONCLUSIONS: A higher DAI grade on early MRI is associated with worse 6-month functional outcome and with discharge to inpatient rehabilitation in children with acute msTBI in a univariate analysis but does not independently correlate with outcome when controlling for the GCS score. Addition of the DAI grade to the core IMPACT model does not significantly improve prediction of poor neurological outcome. Further study is needed to elucidate the utility of early MRI in children with msTBI.

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