Cooling the brain counters damage, symptoms of concussion

Cooling the brain soon after an athlete takes a blow to the head may reduce the symptoms and extent of concussive brain injury, according to an MRI-based pilot study conducted at Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Sport Concussion and published online July 15 in Brain Imaging and Behavior.

Using a portable, commercially available head-cooling system, Semyon Slobounov, PhD, doctoral candidate Alexa Walter and colleagues administered selective brain cooling for 30 minutes to 12 student-athletes who had sustained concussive injuries. They did the same with 12 volunteer controls who had no history of concussion.

All 24 subjects were imaged with functional MRI before and immediately after the cooling treatment, which the injured athletes received within a few days of the incident.

The researchers found no differences in the number or strength of functional connections within the brain’s default mode network between the two groups prior to cooling.

However, post-cooling, the team observed a reduction in the strength and number of connections of the default mode network with other brain regions of interest.

“Unexpectedly, we observed a significant increase in cerebral blood flow assessed by arterial spin labeling [MRI] after selective cooling in the concussed subjects compared to the normal controls,” write the authors, whose study abstract doesn’t detail the specialization of the image interpreters.

“We suggest that compromised neurovascular coupling in acute phase of injury may be temporarily restored by cooling to match cerebral blood flow with surges in the metabolic demands of the brain,” the authors write. “Upon further validation, selective brain cooling could be a potential clinical tool in the minimization of symptoms and pathological changes after concussion.”

The cooling system used in the study is marketed by WElkins. Click here for photos and a commercial description.