Traumatic brain injury computer model maps brain blood vessels

Scientists from Imperial College London created a new traumatic brain injury (TBI) computer model that has mapped blood vessels in a rat brain at the highest resolution. They believe the new TBI computer model could help improve our understanding of how blood vessels are affected by injuries of this type. The model also helps researchers learn the effects on the protective layer encasing the blood-brain barrier that protects the brain from harmful circulating molecules and pathogens.Researchers say if their method translates onto human brains, the new computer simulation could help improve the understanding of how TBI is developed and how to treat and prevent them. The simulations might also help replace animal models of TBI offering the potential to reduce the use of animals in brain research.

Understanding TBI is critically important as it's the most common cause of chronic disability in people under 40 years old. TBI results from a severe blow or jolt to the head, often occurring during road traffic accidents, falls, and assaults. Symptoms of TBI include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, irritability, and memory impairment. Forces sustained during a TBI are known to affect blood vessels, but fine details of the relationship between the mechanical forces and vascular energy are mystery. The researchers have created a computer model mapping the network of vessels inside the brain in the highest resolution ever, incorporating rat brain blood vessels that are only 10 microns in diameter.

Using the new model, scientists found that adjacent blood vessels sustain significantly different stress levels depending on their alignment. For example, blood vessels at 90-degree angles others were less likely to be damaged, and the team found vessels can be stretched to 14 percent of their length before injury. However, stretching more than 14 percent of the original length would result in injury.

The researchers demonstrated using rat models that greater blood brain barrier permeability occurs in TBI due to disruption of the vasculature, which is evident soon after the injury. They also hope their models could provide more objective ways to assess protection systems like helmets. However, studies on humans are needed to confirm their findings before the model can predict injury risk for humans.