Auditory biomaker could improve concussion diagnosis, treatment

Research findings could make concussion diagnosis easier for health care professionals.
By Amy Wallace  |  Dec. 22, 2016 at 11:10 AM
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EVANSTON, Ill., Dec. 22 (UPI) -- New research has uncovered a biological marker in the brain's auditory system that could improve concussion diagnosis and recovery.

Researchers at Northwestern University's Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory have found a distinct pattern in the auditory response of children who had concussions compared with those who did not by observing brain activity exposed to auditory stimuli.

"This biomarker could take the guesswork out of concussion diagnosis and management," Nina Kraus, lead author of the study, Hugh Knowles Professor in the School of Communication and director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, said in a press release. "Our hope is this discovery will enable clinicians, parents and coaches to better manage athlete health, because playing sports is one of the best things you can do."

The incidence of concussions in professional sports and youth athletic programs has gotten widespread media attention in recent years, however, concussions are still difficult to diagnose and there is no single test developed to definitively diagnose them.

For the study, researchers examined 40 children with concussions and a control group of children without concussions.

Kraus and her team used three sensors on children's heads to measure the frequency following response, which is the brain's automatic electric reaction to sound. Using this method, they were able to successfully identify 90 percent of children with concussions and 95 percent of children in the control group who did not have concussions.

Researchers found that on average, the children who had concussions had a 35 percent smaller neural response to pitch, allowing the team to create a signature neural profile. The study also showed that as the children recovered from their concussions, they were again able to process pitch normally.

"Making sense of sound requires the brain to perform some of the most computationally complex jobs it is capable of, which is why it is not surprising that a blow to the head would disrupt this delicate machinery," Kraus said. "Our ambition is to produce a reliable, objective, portable, user-friendly, readily available and affordable platform to diagnose concussion."

The research study was published in the journal Nature, Scientific Reports.

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