Brainstem trauma occurs frequently in severe head injury, often resulting in fatal lesions due to importance of brainstem in crucial neural functions. Structurally, the brainstem is composed of bundles of axonal fibers distinctly oriented in a longitudinal direction surrounded by an extracellular matrix. We hypothesize that the oriented structure and architecture of the brainstem dictates this mechanical response and results in its selective vulnerability in rotational loading. In order to understand the relationship between the biologic architecture and the mechanical response and provide further insight into the high vulnerability of this region, a structural and mathematical model was created. A fiber-reinforced composite model composed of viscoelastic fibers surrounded by a viscoelastic matrix was used to relate the biological architecture of the brainstem to its anisotropic mechanical response. Relevant model parameters measured include the brainstem's composite complex moduli and relative fraction of matrix and fiber. The model predicted that the fiber component is three times stiffer and more viscous than the matrix. The fiber modulus predictions were compared with experimental tissue measurements. The optic nerve, a bundle of tightly packed longitudinally arranged myelinated fibers with little matrix, served as a surrogate for the brainstem fiber component. Model predictions agreed with experimental measures, offering a validation of the model. This approach provided an understanding of the relationship between the specific biologic architecture of the brainstem and the anisotropic mechanical response and allowed insight into reasons for the selective vulnerability of this region in rotational head injury.
Micromechanical; Biological model; Material properties