Researchers Explore Neuromarkers for Poor Social Outcomes After Traumatic Brain Injury

Dr. Lengenfelder is assistant director of the Center for Traumatic Brain Injury Research at Kessler Foundation.

A recent study of individuals with moderate to severe brain injury yielded new information linking brain connectivity patterns and deficits of emotion recognition and social functioning. 

The authors are Katie Lancaster, PhD, Jean Lengenfelder, PhD, and Helen Genova, PhD, of Kessler Foundation, and Umesh M. Venkatesan of Moss Rehabilitation Research Institute.

A common consequence of moderate to severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a deficit in the ability to recognize the emotions of others. This, in turn, interferes with the ability to function effectively in social settings including school, work, and the community. Brain imaging studies have shown that emotion recognition ability may be linked to connectivity (i.e., coordinated activity) between regions in a functional network known as the default mode network. However, little research has been done on the relationship between resting-state functional connectivity and emotion recognition in individuals with or without TBI. This study is the first to explore these relationships and examine their potential value as predictors of social outcomes after TBI.

The researchers conducted tests of emotion recognition in two groups, 21 individuals with TBI and 27 healthy controls, and correlated their performance with resting-state functional connectivity between regions of the default mode network. They found that for all participants, deficits in emotion recognition were linked to increased connectivity between prefrontal and temporal regions of the network. In the group with TBI, the strength of prefrontal-temporal connectivity predicted participants’ level of social integration using the Community Integration Questionnaire, an important measure of social functioning post-TBI.

“This study advances our understanding of the brain basis of post-TBI deficits in social functioning,” said Dr. Lancaster, the Hearst Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for Traumatic Brain Injury Research at Kessler Foundation. “In particular, we found that default mode network connectivity was a stronger predictor of social outcomes than emotion recognition alone,” she noted, “underscoring the importance of brain connectivity metrics in explaining social aspects of TBI recovery.”

Further research is needed to confirm the reliability and validity of increased connectivity as a neuromarker for post-TBI social functioning. Neuromarkers will help clinicians identify individuals at risk for poor outcomes after TBI, and encourage the development of new rehabilitative interventions aimed at improving social integration and quality of life.

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