Evidence-based treatments for children with persistent post-concussion symptoms (PPCS) are few and limited. Common PPCS complaints such as sleep disturbance and fatigue could be ameliorated via the supplementation of melatonin, which has significant neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties.
This study aims to identify neural signatures of melatonin treatment with changes in sleep disturbances and clinical recovery in a pediatric cohort with PPCS. We examined structural and functional neuroimaging (MRI) in 62 children with PPCS in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 3mg or 10mg of melatonin (NCT01874847). The primary outcome was the total youth self-report Post-Concussion Symptom Inventory (PCSI) score after 28 days of treatment. Secondary outcomes included the change in the sleep domain PCSI score and sleep-wake behavior (assessed using wrist-worn actigraphy).
Whole-brain analyses of (i) functional connectivity (FC) of resting-state fMRI, and (ii) structural grey matter (GM) volumes via voxel-based morphometry were assessed immediately before and after melatonin treatment and compared to placebo in order to identify neural effects of melatonin treatment. Increased FC of posterior default mode network (DMN) regions with visual, somatosensory and dorsal networks was detected in the melatonin groups over time. FC increases also corresponded with reduced wake periods (r=-0.27, p=0.01). Children who did not recover (n=39) demonstrated significant FC increases within anterior DMN and limbic regions compared to those that did recover (i.e. PCSI scores returned to pre-injury level n=23) over time, (p=0.026). Increases in GM volume within the posterior cingulate cortex were found to correlate with reduced wakefulness after sleep onset (r=-0.32, p=0.001) and sleep symptom improvement (r=0.29, p=0.02).
Although melatonin treatment did not improve PPCS overall clinically, our study finds that melatonin treatment significantly improved subjective and objective sleep parameters with related function-structure relationships within and between brain regions interacting with the DMN.
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