This report describes the development of an experimental head injury model capable of producing diffuse brain injury in the rodent. A total of 161 anesthetized adult rats were injured utilizing a simple weight-drop device consisting of a segmented brass weight free-falling through a Plexiglas guide tube. Skull fracture was prevented by cementing a small stainless-steel disc on the calvaria. Two groups of rats were tested: Group 1, consisting of 54 rats, to establish fracture threshold; and Group 2, consisting of 107 animals, to determine the primary cause of death at severe injury levels. Data from Group 1 animals showed that a 450-gm weight falling from a 2-m height (0.9 kg-m) resulted in a mortality rate of 44% with a low incidence (12.5%) of skull fracture. Impact was followed by apnea, convulsions, and moderate hypertension. The surviving rats developed decortication flexion deformity of the forelimbs, with behavioral depression and loss of muscle tone. Data from Group 2 animals suggested that the cause of death was due to central respiratory depression; the mortality rate decreased markedly in animals mechanically ventilated during the impact. Analysis of mathematical models showed that this mass-height combination resulted in a brain acceleration of 900 G and a brain compression gradient of 0.28 mm. It is concluded that this simple model is capable of producing a graded brain injury in the rodent without a massive hypertensive surge or excessive brain-stem damage.
Keywords: head injury; pathophysiology; biomechanics; experimental model rat