Sustaining an injury to the head creates lumps of protein similar to those found in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's, research from Imperial College London has found.
The researchers studied nine patients who were aged between 38-55, with moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries. Many had sustained these in road traffic accidents, such as being hit by a car, between 11 months to 17 years before the study. The patients had no physical disabilities as a result of the injury. However, many still suffered problems with memory and concentration. The brains of a group of healthy volunteers were also scanned.
‘The consequences of a head injury have been called a hidden disability, although patients may seem to have outwardly made a good recovery, when we see them in clinic years later they can have persistent problems which affect their daily life, for example impairments in concentration and memory’ said Dr Gregory Scott, the lead author of the paper, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial. ‘Research is increasingly showing that a blow to the head, such as that sustained in a road accident, triggers biological processes in the brain that burn away in the background for years.’
The patient scans were assessed for the proteins that are thought to be a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. It is thought that their formation may trigger other changes that lead to the death of brain cells. The patients who had had head injuries were found to have more amyloid plaques than the healthy volunteers, but fewer than those with Alzheimer’s disease.
‘This is a preliminary study, and it’s important to stress that these head injury patients didn’t have Alzheimer’s disease,’ added Dr Scott. ‘However it supports the idea that the window of treatment for brain injury is potentially months or even years after the initial event. If we can find out exactly what processes are going on in the brain, it may be that we can intervene and improve long-term outcomes for patients.’