New Tool Could Help Scientists Study Brain Injury in Sports

Apr. 30, 2014

footballA new mouse model of mild repetitive traumatic brain injury (TBI) – the sort of injury that can be common in sports such as football – could be the key to both understanding how this damage to the brain leads to neurological problems.

The foundation for much of our knowledge about diseases and many advances in medicine can be attributed to studies in animal models.  However, in the instance of neurological damage that is attributable to sports-related TBI, no real model of the condition exists. 

Consequently, much of our understanding of the condition comes from analyzing the brains of athletes after they have died.  While new imaging technologies have begun to provide a glimpse into what is going on in the brains of individuals – such as football players – who experience repeated blows to the head, researchers still require a model with which they can more fully understand how this neurological damage unfolds over time and what – if anything – can be done to prevent or treat it.

A new study appearing this week in the Journal of Neurotrauma may give researchers a new tool to study this condition.  The research – led by neurosurgeon Anthony Petraglia, M.D. – showed that mice with mild repetitive TBI exhibit the same behavioral traits (difficultly sleeping, memory problems, depression, judgment and risk-taking issues) that have been associated with professional athletes who have later gone on to be diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, an extreme form of degenerative brain disease.

The researchers also used the model to examine the damage that was occurring in the brains of the mice.  The findings, which will be published in a forthcoming paper, show an interaction between the brain’s repair mechanisms – in the forms of astrocytes and microglia – and the protein tau, which can have a toxic effect when triggered by mild traumatic brain injury. 

You can read more about the study here.