It’s Not Just a Bump on the Head

Traumatic brain injury may have different consequences than previously thought

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Structural damage is not the only part of a head injury—the brain’s electricity can be damaged as well. When the firing of the brain’s neurons gets damaged it can’t be seen on a scan the same way structural damage can.

Researchers looked at the way a mild traumatic brain injury changed the brain’s ability to send signals through neuronal firing.

This could explain headaches, confusion and other symptoms that can’t be explained from a structural scan after a mild head injury.

"Protect your head with a helmet whenever you can."

Kimberle M. Jacobs, PhD and John T. Povlishock PhD., from the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at Virginia Commonwealth University, are taking a closer look at mild traumatic brain injuries.

Little is known about the lasting and long-term effects of mild traumatic brain injuries on the cognitive process.

Jacobs and Povlishock designed a study to look closely at how the firing patterns of neurons in the brain are changed, and what that means, for those with mild traumatic brain injuries.

They looked at these neuropathways and neuronal firing after mild traumatic brain injury to determine what, if any, kind of damage has happened. It’s much harder to tell what kind of damage milder injuries have caused then major ones. Even if the pathways are undamaged, this doesn’t mean that the firing goes undamaged.

Jacobs and Povlishock discovered that due to the changes in neuronal firing, there could be overall network dysfunction in the brain, even after mild traumatic brain injuries. A scan that shows structural damage won’t pick up on the network dysfunction due to altered firing patterns.

Bioimaging and electrophysiological techniques were used to isolate the changes from mild traumatic brain injury that are structurally undetectable.

The brain fibers that conduct the electrical impulses are damaged and though they don’t look different, their firing patterns are disrupted. This means that the brain can be affected all over by the firing dysfunction.

Povlishock states, “These findings should help move the field forward by providing a unique bioimaging and electrophysiological approach to assess the evolving changes evoked by mild traumatic brain injury and their potential therapeutic modulation.” ‘Modulation’ in this case refers to how a group of cells functions and changes because of environmental conditions.

Their findings also lay the groundwork for understanding the consequences of repeated mild head injuries, when no structural damage is present. 

This study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience, May 2012. Funding for this study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health. No conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 14, 2012
Last Updated:
July 9, 2012