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Research Gives New Insight Into Severe Brain Injuries

Traumatic brain injuries can have devastating consequences for victims. Each year, thousands of people suffer severe brain injuries in Los Angeles - for many of them, the residual effects of an injury will last a lifetime.

The Los Angeles Times is reporting on a new study that could help doctors make big advances in understanding and treating the most serious brain injuries. By applying "graph theory" to analyze the connections in the human brain, this research concludes that head injuries can quickly and dramatically reorganize the brain, leaving victims in comas.

Graph theory measures the degree of connectivity that exists in networks. Researchers use graph theory to look at how complex, sophisticated networks fit together and operate in an interconnected way. In the past, this model has allowed greater understanding of phenomena like social networks.

In this study, researchers compared graph theory measurements of comatose brain injury victims with healthy brains. Building on past research that shows that the human brain is intricately interconnected, the researchers found that the brain uses certain areas as hubs to tie all of the connections together.

The interesting part is that the measurements of comatose injury victims indicated completely different hub locations. This suggests that the brain's quick healing response to a brain injury involves re-mapping its networks. Severe traumatic brain injuries, in the Los Angeles Times' words, can "completely chang[e] the brain's traffic patterns."

These results could lead to a big change in how doctors think about the mechanics of severe brain injuries. Comas might not result from a breakdown of connectivity in the brain - instead, they might be a consequence of reorganized connections in specific areas.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Study of comatose brains finds changes to highly connected hub areas," Jon Bardin, Nov. 26, 2012

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