Head Injuries and Alzheimer's Plaques
But it's too soon to suggest that people should avoid contact sports, researcher says
By Maureen Salamon
WEDNESDAY, Feb. 3, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Suffering a traumatic brain injury may lead to a buildup of Alzheimer's-type plaques in the brain, including in regions not typically affected by such plaques, a small new study suggests.
Building on previous research indicating traumatic brain injury (TBI) may be a major risk factor for dementia, researchers found that moderate to severe head injuries led to an accumulation of amyloid plaques in the brains of nine middle-aged study participants over months or years.
A buildup of amyloid plaques in the spaces between nerve cells in the brain is a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease.
"More and more evidence suggests brain trauma can trigger long-term processes that may be harmful, suggesting the window for treatment after a head injury may be much greater than previously thought," said study author David Sharp. He is a National Institute for Health Research professor at Imperial College London in the United Kingdom.
"Additional research needs to be done to understand these long-term processes, such as amyloid plaque deposition and persistent brain inflammation, and of course to develop treatments that target these processes," he added.
The study is published online Feb. 3 in the journal Neurology.
Alzheimer's disease affects more than 5 million people in the United States, and in 2015, as many as 700,000 deaths will occur in people with the condition, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
The rate of traumatic brain injury-related emergency department visits soared by 70 percent over the last decade in the United States, the authors of an accompanying journal editorial said. In 2010, 2.5 million emergency visits were due to traumatic brain injury, according to background information in the editorial. In addition, between 3 million and 5 million Americans are estimated to live with a TBI-related disability, said the editorialists, Ansgar Furst of Stanford University and Erin Bigler of Brigham Young University.
Sharp and his team included 28 participants in the study. Nine had a past traumatic brain injury, nine were healthy and 10 had Alzheimer's disease. The mean age of those with traumatic brain injury was 44 years. The mean age in the other groups was about 20 years older, the study said. The nine with traumatic brain injury experienced a single brain injury between 11 months and up to 17 years before the start of the research.