Exploratory relationships between cognitive improvements and training induced plasticity in hippocampus and cingulum in a rat model of mild traumatic brain injury: a diffusion MRI study

  • Kim BraeckmanEmail author
  • Benedicte Descamps
  • Christian Vanhove
  • Karen Caeyenberghs
Original Research


Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a major cause of long-term cognitive deficits, even in mild TBI patients. Computerized cognitive training can help alleviate complaints and improve daily life functioning of TBI patients. However, the underlying biological mechanisms of cognitive training in TBI are not fully understood. In the present study, we utilised for the first time a touchscreen cognitive training system in a rat model of mild TBI. Moreover, we wanted to examine whether the beneficial effects of a cognitive training are task-dependent and selective in their target. Specifically, we examined the effect of two training tasks, i.e. the Paired Associate Learning (PAL) task targeting spatial memory functioning and 5-Choice Continuous Performance (5-CCP) task loading on attention and inhibition control, on the microstructural organization of the hippocampus and cingulum, respectively, using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). Our findings revealed that the two training protocols induced similar effects on the diffusion MRI metrics. Further, in the TBI groups who received training microstructural organization in the hippocampus and cingulum improved (as denoted by increases in fractional anisotropy), while a worsening (i.e., increases in mean diffusivity and radial diffusivity) was found in the TBI control group. In addition, these alterations in diffusion MRI metrics coincided with improved performance on the training tasks in the TBI groups who received training. Our findings show the potential of DTI metrics as reliable measure to evaluate cognitive training in TBI patients and to facilitate future research investigating further improvement of cognitive training targeting deficits in spatial memory and attention.


Mild traumatic brain injury Diffusion MRI Touchscreen cognitive training system Neuroplasticity Preclinical 



This work was supported by the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO) [grant number G027815 N].

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Author K. Braeckman declares that she has no conflict of interest, B. Descamps declares that she has no conflict of interest, C. Vanhove declares that he has no conflict of interest and K. Caeyenberghs declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Infinity Lab, Medical Imaging and Signal Processing Group-IBiTechUGentGhentBelgium
  2. 2.Mary MacKillop Institute for Health ResearchAustralian Catholic UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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