The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury overlap in a dizzying blur of similarity: depression, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, fatigue, loss of interest, and more. At the Center for Clinical Spectroscopy at Brigham and Women’s, Alexander Lin oversees the brain scans of veterans who have experienced a trauma. Linuses magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), to use the magnetic fields to detect levels of molecules in the brain called metabolites. They scan four regions of each participant’s head, sections of approximately five cubic centimeters each, to capture a slew of raw data on the chemical composition of the brain and apply a series of algorithms to process that data. Patients with mTBI had lower levels of the metabolites N-acetyl aspartate and creatine than PTSD patients.
To date, the team has scanned 75 individuals and plans to expand the study to several hundred over the next year in collaboration with additional hospitals. They suspect that it will be more than just one or two metabolites in the brain that distinguish each condition, but a suite of metabolites that make up a chemical signature associated with each condition. If the researchers can discover and validate that signature, returning veterans could get the brain scan as part of routine care, hopefully for the same price as a traditional MRI scan.