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Study: Serious Brain Injuries May Involve Reorganized Brain "Hubs"

Craig McClellan

Researchers announced the results of a novel study this week, potentially changing how scientists approach the aftermath of severe brain injuries. The researchers used a diagnostic tool known as "graph theory" to measure connections in the human brain.

By comparing the network of connections in uninjured brains with comatose traumatic brain injury victims, the study concluded that comas likely involve dramatic reorganizations of the brain's information traffic patterns.

Graph theory allows scientists to measure how connected network components are with one another. While other studies have consistently agreed that the human brain is highly connected - within "six degrees of separation," in the words of the LA Times - this study attempted to see how the big picture of that connectivity differed after a brain injury.

The researchers found that the degree of connectedness does not actually change in comatose brains. However, when the researchers examined the "hubs" or interchange areas that tie the brain's network together, they discovered that post-injury brains were dramatically different. The hubs appeared to have moved to completely new areas, fundamentally reworking the structure and patterns of brain connections.

According to the study, this means that the brain's initial healing process might lead to a surprisingly stark reorganization of its network. This could even help explain why some brain injury victims linger indefinitely in comas while others recover relatively quickly - the brain might be able to remap its way around the new hubs to start functioning again.

For many brain injury victims, however, the study also shows how deep and permanent some TBIs can be.