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Even Mild Head Impact Breaches Blood-Brain Barrier

Study of Mixed Martial Arts Fighters, Rugby Players Could Lead to Improved Dx of TBI

For the first time researchers have been able to detect damage to the blood-brain barrier (BBB) without a reported concussion, according to EurekAlert. 

The finding comes in a new study of adolescent and adult athletes by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Stanford University, and Trinity College in Dublin. The results were published this month in the Journal of Neurotrauma.

The researchers studied high-risk athletes in professional mixed martial arts fighting and adolescent rugby players to find out if mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) altered the blood-brain barrier (BBB). The BBB protects the brain from pathogens and toxins caused by mTBI. The researchers want to develop a technique to better diagnose mild brain trauma.

“While the diagnosis of moderate and severe TBI is visible through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computer-aided tomography scanning (CT), it is far more challenging to diagnose and treat mild traumatic brain injury, especially a concussion which doesn’t show up on a normal CT,” said Alon Friedman, MD, PhD, a neuroscientist and surgeon who established the Inter-Faculty Brain Sciences School at Ben-Gurion.

Fighters were examined pre-fight for a baseline and again 120 hours post fight. Rugby players were examined pre-season and post season or, in a subset of cases, post-match.

The players were evaluated using advance MRI protocol developed at Ben-Gurion. The analysis of BBB biomarkers in the blood, a mouthguard with sensors to track speed, acceleration and force at nearly 10,000 measurements per second were developed at Stanford.

The results showed that fighters and adolescent rugby players who absorb even a mild impact can still cause the BBB to leak. Of 19 rugby players, 10 showed signs of a leaky BBB at season’s end. Two of the eight players scanned post-match had signs of BBB disruption. The injuries detected were lower that the current threshold for mild head trauma.

Researchers plan to conduct a similar study with a larger group of athletes to determine if BBB breaches heal on their own and how long that may take.

“We hope our research using MRI and other biomarkers can help better detect a significant brain injury that may occur after what seems to be a mild TBI among amateur and professional athletes,” Dr. Friedman said.

Source: EurekAlert!, September 25

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