Researchers at the University of Kentucky's Sanders-Brown Center on Aging have found that even a mild head injury can increase the risk for later-in-life development of dementias such as Alzheimer's disease.
While the long-term consequences of head trauma are not fully known, they have been attempting to understand the cascade of events following mild head injury that may lead to an increased risk for developing a progressive degenerative brain disease.
Adam Bachstetter of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging said, "By defining the cascade of events that occurs after a mild brain injury, we ultimately hope to discover ways to disrupt that process. Our goal is to uncover the biology that underlies the link between head injury and dementia, and in our latest research, we think we have found evidence that an altered inflammatory response from cells in the brain called glia may be at least part of the link."
Bachstetter and co-author Scott Webster, PhD, of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging used a mouse that has been genetically altered to make a human protein called amyloid beta. This protein is a key player in Alzheimer's disease. The researchers also developed a surgical procedure to mimic the most common form of traumatic brain injury in order to explore the chain of events that link brain injury to increased risk for dementia.
Bachstetter and Webster used a small molecule drug known as MW151 which blocks overproduction of the molecules that cause inflammation in the brain. Linda Van Eldik, PhD, director of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, and D. Martin Watterson, PhD, of Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine developed MW151.
Mice that received MW151 for three weeks no longer showed learning and memory problems, while the mice that didn't receive the drug showed profound learning and memory problems.
Webster said, "MW151 was able to rescue the memory impairments in mice even when treatment was started a week after the injury. The potential implications are compounded when you factor in that many people who suffer a mild brain injury don't seek treatment right away."