Scientists in the US have discovered a biological marker in the auditory system that could help to reliably diagnose sports-related concussion and other types of mild traumatic brain injuries.
Researchers at Northwestern University’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory observed research subjects’ brain activity as they were exposed to auditory stimuli, revealing a distinct pattern in the auditory response of children who suffered concussions compared to children who had not.
The findings of the study have been published in Scientific Reports, an online, open access journal from the publishers of Nature.
“This biomarker could take the guesswork out of concussion diagnosis and management,” commented lead author Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory. “Our hope is this discovery will enable clinicians, parents and coaches to better manage athlete health, because playing sports is one of the best things you can do.”
Kraus and colleagues placed three sensors on children’s heads to measure the frequency following response, which is the brain’s automatic electric reaction to sound. According to Northwestern University, with this measure the research team successfully identified 90% of children with concussions and 95% of children in the control group who did not have concussions.
Children who sustained concussions had on average a 35% smaller neural response to pitch, allowing the scientists to devise a reliable signature neural profile. As the children recovered from their head injuries, their ability to process pitch returned to normal.
“Making sense of sound requires the brain to perform some of the most computationally complex jobs it is capable of, which is why it is not surprising that a blow to the head would disrupt this delicate machinery,” Kraus explained.
Ultimately, the researchers hope to develop “a reliable, objective, portable, user-friendly, readily available and affordable platform to diagnose concussion,” Kraus added.