The impact of traumatic brain injuries evolves over time, allowing scope for intervention strategies, say Australian researchers.
"Patients who suffer brain injury commonly experience long-term neurological and psychiatric problems, including memory and thinking difficulties, anxiety and depression, and epilepsy. Currently there are no effective interventions to reduce the incidence or severity of these problems," says Professor Terry O'Brien, Head of the University of Melbourne's Department of Medicine at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and a senior author of the new study.
The new research could change all that.
Using powerful imaging techniques--positron emission tomography (PET) fused with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-- on animal models. researchers have been able to better understand the long-term functional and structural changes that take place after traumatic brain injury.
The study revealed widespread decreases in brain functioning in specific regions of the brain, many of which are remote from the site of the direct trauma and showed no signs of initial injury on the MRI. The hippocampus, a brain structure critical to memory and emotion, is the key area of these changes.
The finding could open up a window of opportunity to give treatments to halt the damage, and thereby reduce long term neurological and psychiatric complications.
Around 400,000 Australians have a disability related to traumatic brain injury with cognitive, psychiatric and epileptic problems the most common symptoms. The major cause of TBI is motor vehicle accidents. Other causes include falls, sports injuries and violent crime.
The new study has also provided a platform for testing the biological effectiveness of potential new therapies before embarking on expensive and lengthy clinical trials.
"Our discovery could also be applicable to the study of other neurological diseases, such as stroke, dementia, multiple sclerosis brain infections and epilepsy, which are associated with long-term progressive degenerative changes in the brain," Professor O'Brien said.
The Melbourne varsity study, funded by the Victorian Neurotrauma Initiative, has been published in the latest issue of The Journal of Nuclear Medicine (JNM).