Bioengineers at Harvard University have identified the mechanism for diffuse axonal injury and explained why cerebral vasospasm is more common in blast-induced brain injuries than in civilian brain injuries. The research addresses two major aspects of traumatic brain injury (TBI), with significant implications for the medical treatment of soldiers wounded by explosions.

Two papers, published in the journals Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and PLoS One, provide a comprehensive explanation of how mechanical forces can be translated into subtly disastrous physiological changes within the brain’s neurons and vasculature.

"These results have been a long time coming," said principal investigator Kevin Kit Parker, a professor of bioengineering at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, a major in the US Army.

When the brain encounters a jarring force, such as an exploding roadside bomb, the delicate tissue slams against the skull. The result can be a temporary concussion, a more dangerous hemorrhage, or long-term TBI.

Using cutting-edge tissue engineering techniques–essentially creating a living brain on a chip–biologists, physicists, engineers, and materials scientists collaborate to study brain injury and potential targets for treatment.

Their studies show that integrins, receptor proteins embedded in the cell membrane, provide the crucial link between external forces and internal physiological changes. Parker’s research has demonstrated that the forces unleashed by an explosion physically disrupt the structure of the focal adhesion complex, setting off a chain reaction of destructive molecular signals within the nerve cells of the brain.

[Source: Medical News Today]