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NINR Researchers Lead Effort To Identify Role of Key Protein in Traumatic Brain Injury

August 3, 2015
Dr Jessica Gill

NINR researcher Dr. Jessica Gill—NIH Lasker Clinical Research Scholar and Chief of NINR’s Brain Injury Unit, Tissue Injury Branch—is the lead author on a new study showing that the tau protein, previously linked to acute symptoms immediately following a traumatic brain injury (TBI), may also be responsible for long-term complications that can result from TBI.

In this study, published in the August 3 issue of JAMA Neurology, Dr. Gill and her colleagues compared two groups of military personnel who had been deployed for combat: those with a history of TBI and those without. The researchers were able to measure levels of the tau protein (which is known to have a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease) in the blood of those with a history of TBI months and years after the TBI had been sustained. Levels of tau in the blood can be elevated in the hours and days following an injury, but were thought to return to normal levels within the months following a TBI.

The researchers found that these elevated levels of tau long after TBI are associated with chronic neurological symptoms, independent of other factors such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. They also found that participants with three or more TBIs had significantly higher levels of tau compared with participants who had fewer TBIs.

These findings suggest that long after the primary brain injury, tau accumulations may contribute to chronic neurological symptoms that can significantly affect quality of life for those who have experienced TBI.

“It’s possible that further research could examine methods to reduce the accumulation of tau and discover ways to mitigate or eliminate associated chronic neurological symptoms,” said NINR Director Patricia A. Grady, Ph.D., R.N.

To view the full paper, please visit http://archneur.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2398918

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