We’ve known for a long time that a traumatic brain injury can have a lasting effect on the health of your brain. But researchers have never figured out why the effects of such injuries were so long-lasting, far-reaching, and implicated in a variety of diseases. These can include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, PTSD, strokes, ADHD, autism, depression, and even schizophrenia. Until recently, scientists weren’t sure what the direct link between injury and these issues was. Now, research being conducted at UCLA is beginning to shed some light on this connection.
Of course, when you experience a head injury, you expect to have some physical damage. Ultimately, if you damage your head, you’re hurting tissue, which is made up of cells. And these cells are governed by DNA. But not all DNA is created equal. Researchers have discovered so-called “master genes” that are in charge of hundreds of other genes. Hurt these master genes, and you could be in trouble.
Many of the genes controlled by master genes are responsible for producing proteins. But if the master genes aren’t giving good directions, the proteins may become misshapen, or the genes might not know how many to make. These malformed proteins can lead to issues like Alzheimer’s.
Researchers have been studying brain injuries in rats, and found that the rats who received brain injuries took 25% longer to complete a maze they’d been trained to finish prior to the injury compared to those who remained uninjured. The researchers analyzed the injured rats’ brains and found that a total of 268 core genes in the hippocampus had been altered. They also examined leukocytes, which are white blood cells important to the immune system. They found that the core group changes had led to 1,215 gene changes in the leukocytes alone.
Because these genetic changes can show up in the blood, the researchers are hopeful that they may be able to develop a blood test to identify such changes after an injury. This could help people be prepared for the after-effects of these injuries, and to decide whether to engage in activities in which they’re likely to sustain head injuries, such as certain sports.