Approximately 1 in 5 adolescents who report having a concussion experience persistent and long-lasting emotional and behavioural challenges. The reasons why have been difficult to tease apart – until recently.

Future Leader, Dr. Anne Wheeler and her research team studied pre- and post-concussion data from male and female children. What they found is that female children who experienced a concussion had increased emotional challenges including anxiety and depression, beyond pre-injury levels. In this group, the increase in emotional challenges was correlated with less change in superficial white matter.

In other words, the maturation of white matter – an important factor in brain development during childhood and adolescence – was disrupted in the brains of female children after concussion.

Probing their observation further in a mouse model, Dr. Wheeler and her team found specific changes in brain connectivity correlated with this disruption. They’re now looking to better understand how and where structural damage and neural dysfunction intersect and how much the locations of damage and dysfunction vary between children experiencing them.

“The Future Leader grant timing came at a critical time for my lab. The boost in funding allowed me to retain my team members and helped us get the results we needed to obtain additional grant funding.” 

Dr. Anne Wheeler, Azrieli Future Leader in Canadian Brain Research

This information will inform a subsequent study looking into targeted therapies including brain stimulation, a non-invasive technique proven to promote plasticity and repair. 

What’s the impact?

Many adolescents face long-lasting symptoms after a concussion, including headaches and problems with their mood, thinking, and sleep, leading to significant challenges during what is already an emotionally turbulent period.

There are currently no treatments available that can effectively manage these long-term health challenges.

Dr. Wheeler’s basic research discovery on the effect that concussion has on white matter in female children facing persistent emotional and behavioural challenges, and the follow-up findings in mice, are setting groundwork for targeted interventions that may improve quality of life post-concussion during the critical period of brain development.

More on Dr. Anne Wheeler’s Research