Diffuse Axonal Injury after severe head trauma - A clinico-pathological study

J. Sahuquillo, J. Vilalta, J. Lamarca, E. Rubio, M. Rodriguez-Pazos, J. A. Salva

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Diffuse Axonal Injury (DAI) is a well known entity that affects many patients with severe head trauma. Classically DAI has been considered the pathological substrate of those cases rendered unconscious at the moment of impact and in which the CT scan does not show mass lesions. Diffuse axonal damage is almost always related to mechanisms of injury in which the rotational acceleration produces shear and tensile strains of high magnitude. In this paper we present a group of 24 patients with a severe head injury in whom the postmortem examination demonstrated unequivocal signs of DAI. Widespread axonal retraction balls, located preferentially in the centrum semiovale and internal capsule were the most constant histological finding. We divided the entire series into two subgroups. One group (15 cases), included all the patients in whom the CT scan did not demonstrate mass lesions. In the second group (9 patients) we considered patients with a diffuse axonal injury in whom the CT scan additionally demonstrated a mass lesion (6 acute subdural haematomas, 2 intracerebral and 1 extradural haematoma). The mean age of the entire group was 26 years. Twenty two patients were injured in a road traffic accident, the remaining two fell from a considerable height. All were rendered immediately unconscious on impact. Diffuse brain damage is a common finding in patients with a severe head injury and immediate coma in whom the CT scan does not show mass lesions. Diffuse axonal injury can also appear in connection with a wide spectrum of focal lesions (acute subdural haematoma, basal ganglia haematoma etc.). Associated shear injuries of the brain in this latter group, could justify the poor outcome that certain groups of patients had in spite of the rapid surgical treatment and aggressive control of intracranial pressure. © 1989 Springer-Verlag.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-158
JournalActa Neurochirurgica
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 1989


  • coma
  • Diffuse axonal injury
  • head injury
  • intracranial haematoma
  • neuropathology


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