Inflammation appears to be the underlying factor behind the symptoms of traumatic brain injuries, according to a new study published in the medical journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity by researchers at McMaster University in Canada. The findings provide an explanation for why many people with very mild head injuries, or even injuries to other parts of their bodies, still suffer from debilitating post-concussion-like syndromes. These symptoms include headaches, dizziness, cognitive impairment, and other neuropsychiatric symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, and insomnia. In fact, people who have a very subtle genetic change in a certain inflammatory protein tend to have poorer recovery after brain injury. The findings offer a new look at post-concussion syndrome and settle long-unanswered questions that have been plaguing experts in the field.
“It’s inflammation that they have in common,” said Michel Rathbone, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of medicine and lead author of the paper. He added that their new findings will encourage scientists to open up new lines of research into understanding the cause of post-concussion symptoms. So even in a situation where there is no obvious visible brain injury on conventional imaging scans, physicians may be able to still offer treatments that target inflammatory mediators. The findings also help explain why many social factors appear to play a role in the development of symptoms: “We know that the immune system can be modulated, or sensitized by the current and even the previous environment an individual was in. These social factors, such as preexisting stressors, depression, or anxiety, may actually be, in a way, biological factors,” said Rathbone. “This research opens many doors for so many different patients. We are excited to be starting a totally new approach to the field, and we look forward to making a difference for the patients of the future.”