Low-impulse electrical brain stimulation may help improve neural function in patients who have mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) with persistent post-concussion symptoms, according to a new pilot study by researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System (VASDHS).
TBI is a leading cause of sustained physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioral problems in both the civilian population (primarily due to motor vehicle accidents, sports, falls and assaults) and among military personnel (blast injuries). In most of these cases, injury is deemed mild (75 percent of civilians, 89 percent of military) and typically resolves in days.
However, in a strong minority of cases, mild TBI and related post-concussive symptoms persist for months, even years, resulting in chronic, long-term cognitive and/or behavioral impairment.
There is still much to learn regarding the pathology of mild TBI, which the researchers say has confounded efforts to develop optimal treatments. However, the use of passive neurofeedback, which involves applying low-intensity pulses to the brain through transcranial electrical stimulation (LIP-tES) is showing promise for patients with these persistent cases.
The study involved six participants who had suffered mild TBI and persistent post-concussion symptoms. The researchers used a version of LIP-tES called IASIS, combined with concurrent electroencephalography monitoring (EEG).
The effects of IASIS were evaluated before and after treatment using magnetoencephalography (MEG), a form of non-invasive functional imaging that directly measures brain neuronal electromagnetic activity.
“Our previous publications have shown that MEG detection of abnormal brain slow-waves is one of the most sensitive biomarkers for mild traumatic brain injury (concussions), with about 85 percent sensitivity in detecting concussions and, essentially, no false-positives in normal patients,” said senior author Roland Lee, M.D., professor of radiology and director of Neuroradiology, MRI and MEG at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and VASDHS.
“This makes it an ideal technique to monitor the effects of concussion treatments such as LIP-tES.”
The findings show that the brains of all six participants displayed abnormal slow-waves in initial, baseline MEG scans. Following treatment, the researchers found a decrease in these slow-waves. The participants also reported a significant reduction in post-concussion scores.
“For the first time, we’ve been able to document with neuroimaging the effects of LIP-tES treatment on brain functioning in mild TBI,” said first author Ming-Xiong Huang, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Radiology at University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and a research scientist at VASDHS.
“It’s a small study, which certainly must be expanded, but it suggests new potential for effectively speeding the healing process in mild traumatic brain injuries.”