Brain discovery brings fresh hope for new concussion treatments

14 Oct 2019

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Findings on the inner workings of the brain could help lead to the development of new treatments for concussions and other brain injuries.

While the after-effects of a concussion are well documented – such as issues with memory, movement and emotions – its underlying cause is still not clearly understood. Now, researchers have looked at the brain’s inner working to uncover these underlying issues and potentially lead to treatments for concussion and other traumatic brain injuries (TBI).

A study, published to Brain by researchers from the US, questioned the hypothesis that the blunt force behind TBI results in nerve damage, or axonal injury. Their analysis has shown that a collision actually results in greater amounts of blood vessel damage, based on post mortem scans of an injured brain.

“Nerve damage following traumatic brain injuries has been a majority point of view, and therapy as well as drug development has been targeted towards that,” said Prof Partha Mitra of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, who was involved in the research. “The idea is that if the mechanism is actually different, therapeutic intervention may also be different.”

The injured brains were scanned using a variety of complex techniques for labelling and visualising brain slices, which were developed by Mitra and his team to study the wiring of mouse brains.

Traumatic microbleeds

This was necessary as MRI scans are limited to several hundred microns in scale, making it difficult to discern whether nerve fibre of blood vessel injuries had occurred. By correlating the new scans with MRIs, the researchers were able to see the vascular injury more clearly.

The scans were focused on the ‘black blobs’ typically seen in an MRI scan where the physical imprint of a brain injury is left behind. An iron stain was inserted to show the presence of blood as blue, and a myelin stain was inserted to show up the presence of nerve fibre fragments.

While a significant amount of blue appeared on their screens, there was not a significant indication of nerve damage shown by the myelin stains. Despite the researchers not being able to completely rule out that the patients had also suffered axonal injury, the discovery suggests therapies focused on the traumatic microbleeds seen in scans could be developed for concussion.

They now hope to conduct follow-up experiments to identify the underlying causes of TBI for better patient outcomes.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic