Traumatic brain injury: Linking a key protein to long-term complications

2015

Challenge

Individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI) are more likely to experience ongoing neurological complications such as post-concussive disorder (PCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression, and they are also more likely to develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive brain degeneration that leads to dementia. However, there is currently no way to identify which people are at greatest risk for developing chronic symptoms from TBI.

Advance

IRP researchers led by Jessica Gill, Ph.D., R.N., hypothesized that a protein, tau, linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases might play a role in post-TBI complications, but tau concentrations in the blood of patients who experience chronic symptoms or negative effects of TBI have proven difficult to measure. Using a novel and ultra-sensitive technology, about 1,000 times more sensitive than conventional methods of measurement, the researchers were able to measure levels of tau months and years after military personnel had experienced TBI. The team found elevated tau levels in the blood samples of military participants with a history of TBI compared with participants who had never suffered a TBI, and the elevated tau levels were shown to be associated with chronic neurological symptoms.

Impact

This finding provides an insight into the underlying biology of TBI and could lead to new strategies for mitigating TBI’s debilitating symptoms. By using a new, ultrasensitive immunoassay technology, doctors and researchers can now more easily measure tau, clarify its role in long-term complications of TBI, and potentially use this information to better predict long-term outcomes and effective treatments.

Publications

Olivera A, Lejbman N, Jeromin A, French LM, Kim HS, Cashion A, Mysliwiec V, Diaz-Arrastia R, Gill J. (2015). Peripheral Total Tau in Military Personnel Who Sustain Traumatic Brain Injuries During Deployment. JAMA Neurol. 72(10):1109-1116.