Neuroimaging, wearable sensors, and blood-based biomarkers reveal hyperacute changes in the brain after sub-concussive impacts


Impacts in mixed martial arts (MMA) have been studied mainly in regard to the long-term effects of concussions. However, repetitive sub-concussive head impacts at the hyperacute phase (minutes after impact), are not understood. The head experiences rapid acceleration similar to a concussion, but without clinical symptoms. We utilize portable neuroimaging technology – transcranial Doppler (TCD) ultrasound and functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) – to estimate the extent of pre- and post-differences following contact and non-contact sparring sessions in nine MMA athletes. In addition, the extent of changes in neurofilament light (NfL) protein biomarker concentrations, and neurocognitive/balance parameters were determined following impacts. Athletes were instrumented with sensor-based mouth guards to record head kinematics. TCD and fNIRS results demonstrated significantly increased blood flow velocity (p = 0.01) as well as prefrontal (p = 0.01) and motor cortex (p = 0.04) oxygenation, only following the contact sparring sessions. This increase after contact was correlated with the cumulative angular acceleration experienced during impacts (p = 0.01). In addition, the NfL biomarker demonstrated positive correlations with angular acceleration (p = 0.03), and maximum principal and fiber strain (p = 0.01). On average athletes experienced 23.9 ± 2.9 g peak linear acceleration, 10.29 ± 1.1 rad/s peak angular velocity, and 1,502.3 ± 532.3 rad/s2 angular acceleration. Balance parameters were significantly increased following contact sparring for medial-lateral (ML) center of mass (COM) sway, and ML ankle angle (p = 0.01), illustrating worsened balance. These combined results reveal significant changes in brain hemodynamics and neurophysiological parameters that occur immediately after sub-concussive impacts and suggest that the physical impact to the head plays an important role in these changes.

Brain Multiphysics