Diffuse axonal injury is a primary neuropathological feature of concussion and is thought to greatly contribute to the classical symptoms of decreased processing speed and memory dysfunction. Although previous studies have investigated the injury biomechanics at the micro- and mesoscale of concussion, few have addressed the multiscale transmission of mechanical loading at thresholds that can induce diffuse axonal injury. Because it has been recognized that axonal pathology is commonly found at anatomic interfaces across all severities of traumatic brain injury, we combined computational, analytical, and experimental approaches to investigate the potential mechanical vulnerability of axons that span the gray-white tissue interface. Our computational models predict that material heterogeneities at the gray-white interface lead to a highly nonuniform distribution of stress in axons, which was most amplified in axonal regions near the interface. This mechanism was confirmed using an analytical model of an individual fiber in a strained bimaterial interface. Comparisons of these collective data with histopathological evaluation of a swine model of concussion demonstrated a notably similar pattern of axonal damage adjacent to the gray-white interface. The results suggest that the tissue property mismatch at the gray-white matter interface places axons crossing this region at greater risk of mechanical damage during brain tissue deformation from traumatic brain injury.
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