Differential responses in three thalamic nuclei in moderately disabled, severely disabled and vegetative patients after blunt head injury


Maxwell WL, Pennington K, MacKinnon MA, Smith DH, McIntosh TK, Wilson JTL & Graham DI (2004) Differential responses in three thalamic nuclei in moderately disabled, severely disabled and vegetative patients after blunt head injury. Brain, 127 (11), pp. 2470-2478.

In vivo imaging techniques have indicated for many years that there is loss of white matter after human traumatic brain injury (TBI) and that the loss is inversely related to cognitive outcome. However, correlated, quantitative evidence for loss of neurons from either the cerebral cortex or the diencephalon is largely lacking. There is some evidence in models of TBI that neuronal loss occurs within the thalamus, but no systematic studies of such loss have been undertaken in the thalamus of humans after blunt head injury. We have undertaken a stereological analysis of changes in numbers of neurons within the dorsomedial, ventral posterior and lateral posterior thalamic nuclei in patients assessed by the Glasgow Outcome Scale as moderately disabled (n = 9), severely disabled (n = 12) and vegetative (n = 10) head-injured patients who survived between 6 h and 3 years, and controls (n = 9). In histological sections at the level of the lateral geniculate body, the cross-sectional area of each nucleus and the number and the mean size of neurons within each nucleus was quantified. A statistically significant loss of cross-sectional area and number of neurons occurred in the dorsomedial nucleus in moderately disabled, and both the dorsomedial and ventral posterior thalamic nuclei in severely disabled and vegetative head-injured patients. However, there was no change in neuronal cell size. In the lateral posterior nucleus, despite a reduction in mean cell size, there was not a significant change in either nuclear area or number of neurons in cases of moderately disabled, severely disabled or vegetative patients. We posit, although detailed neuropsychological outcome for the patients included within this study was not available, that neuronal loss in the dorsomedial thalamus in moderately and severely disabled and vegetative patients may be the structural basis for the clinical assessment in the Glasgow Outcome Scale. In severely disabled and vegetative pati-ents, loss of neurons from the ventral posterior thalamic nucleus may also reflect loss of response to afferent stimuli

human thalamus; stereology; traumatic brain injury; thalamus; loss of neurons

Brain: Volume 127, Issue 11

Publication date30/11/2004
Publication date online29/09/2004