Using a laboratory device that can deliver concussive trauma impacts to cell cultures and image the aftermath in real time, researchers have been able to watch in real time what happens to neurons after they experience the kinds of forces involved in a blow to the head. The team of Brown University researchers found that after a compression event with forces similar to those involved in traumatic brain injury (TBI), it takes approximately six hours for neurons to develop irreparable structural damage. That suggests that there may be a window for therapeutic intervention aimed at minimizing further damage.
The study also found two different types of structural damage occurring in cells following compression. One type, called diffuse axonal injury, scientists know well as a hallmark manifestation of cellular TBI. But the second form, which also led to cell death, has not previously been associated with TBI. That finding suggests that the full extent of TBI damage in the brain could be underestimated in some cases.