A recent article published in the journal Nature discussed what happens to a person’s brain following a concussion. Researchers were able to study the brains of animals immediately after a concussion and gained insight into the harm that such head injuries can cause. The hope is that this new insight will also lead to new strategies to mitigate this harm in the future.
First things first, concussions happen when the brain bounces against the skull of someone’s head after being jolted. These injuries occur frequently among athletes in contact sports such as football and hockey, among soldiers on the battlefield and even among victims of car accidents.
In the recent study, scientists at the National Institutes of Health developed a technique that allowed them to see inside the skulls of animals and observe changes in the brains of mice in real time. The researchers then gave the mice minor concussions and watched what happened to their brains.
The first thing that researchers noticed was how several layers of membrane that protect the brain from harmful molecules became torn and frayed by the force of the concussion. The blow to the head allowed these membranes to leak, making the brain vulnerable to molecules known as free radicals which, in excess, can lead to cell death and permanent tissue damage.
Though the body was seen quickly responding to the frayed membranes, it did not work fast enough and some free radicals were able to pass through the torn membranes and into the brain tissue where they were found to cause death to brain cells, even ones far away from the original impact site. Researchers decided that if they could just reduce the number of free radicals that were able to get into the brain it might work to minimize the harm caused by concussions.
In a second round of experiments, scientists placed a layer of antioxidants outside the brains of the mice after they were given a concussion. The antioxidants work by “soaking up” free radicals in the blood. The results were surprising; with treatment immediately after the head injury researchers recorded the death of 70 percent fewer brain cells.
Scientists say the results were extremely promising and that they believe it has opened a possible new avenue to explore ways to mitigate the damage caused by concussions in humans. The hope is that as the danger of concussions continue to receive attention more money can go towards investigating possible treatments so that innocent victims are not left with debilitating brain injuries for the remainder of their lives.