Alzheimer's-Like Plaque Seen on Brain Scans After Head Trauma
But researchers don't know if these so-called 'amyloid deposits' persist long-term
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Other experts not involved with the study stress the significance of these findings.
"The study shows evidence of these plaques days after the accident," said Dr. Mony de Leon, director of the Center for Brain Health at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. "It is not like someone got hit on the head at age 32 and can't remember anything at age 60. The damage is immediate, and now we have a way of seeing it."
He pointed out that amyloid plaques are a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease in the brain, but they are not the only marker. Tangled or twisted strands of another protein are also seen in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease. "This study is highly suggestive that there is an Alzheimer's disease-like effect in the brain after head injury, but it's not definitive because we can't see the tangles," said de Leon.
Still, the potential at-risk group is huge, he said. It includes athletes, soldiers and individuals hurt in car crashes.
The study, while small, is important, said Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City and a former sideline physician with the N.Y. Jets. "This type of imaging may potentially play a role in helping to understand how traumatic brain injury affects the brain and serve as a marker to evaluate such patients over the long term," he said. If treatments are developed, this type of imaging will help determine whether or not they work.
Dr. Sam Gandy, director of the Mount Sinai Center for Cognitive Health in New York City, cautioned that the imaging research is still in the early stage. "There is currently great interest in identifying objective biomarkers [or indicators] to document the structural and functional [consequences] of chronic and mild traumatic brain injury," Gandy said.
But PET scans have been used far less often in diagnosing sports-related brain damage than brain harm caused by traffic accidents, he noted.