Traumatic brain injury is an increasingly common affliction, although many of its serious repercussions are still underappreciated. A frequent consequence is the development of light-induced pain, or ‘photalgia’, which can often lead to prolonged debilitation. The mechanism underlying the sensitivity to light, however, remains unresolved. Since tissue oedema (swelling) is a common feature of traumatic brain injury, we propose that the brainstem oedema, in particular, might sensitize the brainstem trigeminal complex to signals from ocular mechanisms activated in bright light. To assess this hypothesis, we ran high-resolution Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the brainstems of concussion groups with mild and severe photalgia, without photalgia, and healthy controls. The 3D configuration of the brainstem was determined by Tensor-Based Morphometry (TBM) for each participant. The TBM revealed significant deviations in the brainstem morphology of all concussion groups, with a characteristic signature for each group. In particular, concussion without photalgia showed bilateral expansion at the pontine/medulla junction, whereas concussion with photalgia showed mid-pontine shrinkage, consistent with degeneration of nuclei of the trigeminal complex. These results support the hypothesis that brainstem shrinkage/degeneration represents a morphological substrate of the photalgic sensitization of the trigeminal pathway.
Publication Type: Journal Article
Publication: Nature: Scientific Reports, Issue 6256 (2018)