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Brain. 2011 Mar;134(Pt 3):759-68. doi: 10.1093/brain/awq388. Epub 2011 Feb 9.

Parcellating the neuroanatomical basis of impaired decision-making in traumatic brain injury.

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Division of Anaesthesia, Department of Medicine, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, CB2 2QQ, UK.


Cognitive dysfunction is a devastating consequence of traumatic brain injury that affects the majority of those who survive with moderate-to-severe injury, and many patients with mild head injury. Disruption of key monoaminergic neurotransmitter systems, such as the dopaminergic system, may play a key role in the widespread cognitive dysfunction seen after traumatic axonal injury. Manifestations of injury to this system may include impaired decision-making and impulsivity. We used the Cambridge Gambling Task to characterize decision-making and risk-taking behaviour, outside of a learning context, in a cohort of 44 patients at least six months post-traumatic brain injury. These patients were found to have broadly intact processing of risk adjustment and probability judgement, and to bet similar amounts to controls. However, a patient preference for consistently early bets indicated a higher level of impulsiveness. These behavioural measures were compared with imaging findings on diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging. Performance in specific domains of the Cambridge Gambling Task correlated inversely and specifically with the severity of diffusion tensor imaging abnormalities in regions that have been implicated in these cognitive processes. Thus, impulsivity was associated with increased apparent diffusion coefficient bilaterally in the orbitofrontal gyrus, insula and caudate; abnormal risk adjustment with increased apparent diffusion coefficient in the right thalamus and dorsal striatum and left caudate; and impaired performance on rational choice with increased apparent diffusion coefficient in the bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortices, and the superior frontal gyri, right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, the dorsal and ventral striatum, and left hippocampus. Importantly, performance in specific cognitive domains of the task did not correlate with diffusion tensor imaging abnormalities in areas not implicated in their performance. The ability to dissociate the location and extent of damage with performance on the various task components using diffusion tensor imaging allows important insights into the neuroanatomical basis of impulsivity following traumatic brain injury. The ability to detect such damage in vivo may have important implications for patient management, patient selection for trials, and to help understand complex neurocognitive pathways.

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