Some young people quickly recover from traumatic brain injuries, while others take much longer to recover – if they ever do at all.
The difference appears to be in the brain’s wiring system – and not the overall severity of the injury, according to a new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience Wednesday.
The vital point for neural connectivity is in the fatty sheaths around nerve fibers, called myelin, according to the researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles, and the University of Southern California.
Damage to the myelin appears to hamstring the ability to learn and think in the young people, they found.
Thirty-two children aged 8 to 19 were with recent brain injuries were given mental tasks – as the UCLA team monitored electrical activity.
The kids, when compared with healthy and injury-free children, preformed worse on the tasks. But the half of the injured group who had nearly-intact myelin in their brains performed at a level much closer to the healthy children, they found.
The scientists concluded that analysis of a patient’s myelin could help predict recovery time – and also help with treatments.
“Our research suggests that imaging the brain’s wiring to evaluate both its structure and function could help predict a patient’s prognosis after a traumatic brain injury,” said Emily Dennis, the first author and a postdoctoral researcher at USC – Keck School of Medicine.
A European team published similar findings about myelin and its effect on traumatic brain injury in 2013, and a Scottish scientist found the same year that brain damage continues to mount even after the initial injury, due to the loss of the sheath around nerve fibers.
The concussion and brain-injury prevalence has been steadily increasing in the U.S., according to the CDC. Nearly 250,000 youths age 19 and under were taken to emergency departments for sports-related injuries of that type in 2009, the agency said.
Filed Under: Drug Discovery