What is a Diffuse Axonal Injury? (DAI)

As tissue slides over tissue, a shearing injury occurs. This causes the lesions that are responsible for unconsciousness, as well as the vegetative state that occurs after a severe head injury. A diffuse axonal injury also causes brain cells to die, which cause swelling in the brain.”
DAI is characterized by axonal separation, in which the axon is torn at the site of stretch and the part distal to the tear degrades. While it was once thought that the main cause of axonal separation was tearing due to mechanical forces during the trauma, it is now understood that axons are not typically torn upon impact; rather, secondary biochemical cascades, which occur in response to the primary injury (which occurs as the result of mechanical forces at the moment of trauma) and take place hours to days after the initial injury, are largely responsible for the damage to axons.
Though the processes involved in secondary brain injury are still poorly understood, it is now accepted that stretching of axons during injury causes physical disruption to and proteolytic degradation of the cytoskeleton.[1] It also opens sodium channels in the axolemma, which causes voltage-gated calcium channels to open and Ca2+ to flow into the cell. The intracellular presence of Ca2+ unleashes several different pathways, including activating phospholipases and proteolytic enzymes, damaging mitochondria and the cytoskeleton, and activating secondary messengers, which can lead to separation of the axon and death of the cell.