Using Oculomotor Features to Predict Changes in Optic Nerve Sheath Diameter and ImPACT Scores From Contact-Sport Athletes

Front Neurol. 2021 Apr;


Rao, H. M., Yuditskaya, S., Williamson, J. R., Vian, T. R., Lacirignola, J. J., Shenk, T. E., . . . Quatieri, T. F..



There is mounting evidence linking the cumulative effects of repetitive head impacts to neuro-degenerative conditions. Robust clinical assessment tools to identify mild traumatic brain injuries are needed to assist with timely diagnosis for return-to-field decisions and appropriately guide rehabilitation. The focus of the present study is to investigate the potential for oculomotor features to complement existing diagnostic tools, such as measurements of Optic Nerve Sheath Diameter (ONSD) and Immediate Post-concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT). Thirty-one high school American football and soccer athletes were tracked through the course of a sports season. Given the high risk of repetitive head impacts associated with both soccer and football, our hypotheses were that (1) ONSD and ImPACT scores would worsen through the season and (2) oculomotor features would effectively capture both neurophysiological changes reflected by ONSD and neuro-functional status assessed via ImPACT. Oculomotor features were used as input to Linear Mixed-Effects Regression models to predict ONSD and ImPACT scores as outcomes. Prediction accuracy was evaluated to identify explicit relationships between eye movements, ONSD, and ImPACT scores. Significant Pearson correlations were observed between predicted and actual outcomes for ONSD (Raw = 0.70; Normalized = 0.45) and for ImPACT (Raw = 0.86; Normalized = 0.71), demonstrating the capability of oculomotor features to capture neurological changes detected by both ONSD and ImPACT. The most predictive features were found to relate to motor control and visual-motor processing. In future work, oculomotor models, linking neural structures to oculomotor function, can be built to gain extended mechanistic insights into neurophysiological changes observed through seasons of participation in contact sports.

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