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New UCLA Study: Permanent Gene Damage Can Result from Head Injuries

Thursday, May 11, 2017By Richard Alexander

Genes are responsible for the production of protein. These proteins then determine the structure and function of each cell in the body. Hence, the condition of genes is not only important in heredity, but also in the functionality of the human body.

For example, the brain cells perform normally when the genes within them are healthy. But when they are damaged, the brain cells can no longer function properly, leading to neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

To study the phenomenon, the University of California at Los Angeles conducted a study to determine the impact of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) on the structure and function of genes, as TBI is the most common type of head injury in the U.S.

In a nutshell, the study was carried out in 20 rats that were trained to locate an escape chamber in a maze. Their speed in solving the maze was recorded. After the training and initial test, a procedure called fluid percussion injury (FPI), which simulates a TBI or concussion injury, was administered to 10 of the rats. The other 10 remained in the injury-free, control group. Both groups were exposed again to the maze test after introducing the FPI.

The pre-TBI and post-TBI test results indicated that the injured rats had longer duration of about 25 percent in solving the maze, compared to the rats without injuries.

Another part of the study was the analysis of the effects of the injury to the rats’ gene structure. RNA samples were drawn from the brain cells (hippocampus) and blood cells (leukocytes).The results showed that the head injury altered and damaged 268 and 1,215 of the rats’ genes in the brain and blood cells respectively.

The senior author of the study, Xiang Yang, had expected the degree of damage to the brain cells. Still, she was taken aback by the number of genes affected in the blood cells.

More strikingly, the research found that over 100 damaged genes of those rats exposed to TBI have analogous genes in humans who suffer from neurological or psychiatric disorders. Here are some examples:

  • sixteen hippocampal and nine leukocyte-altered genes in rats have counterparts in humans with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • four hippocampal and one leukocyte gene of rats have similar genes affected in people experiencing PTSD.
  • fourteen hippocampal and five leukocyte-altered rat genes are also present in humans suffering from major depressive disorders.

The research clearly supports that head injuries are damaging the fundamental mechanisms of genes. This explains the emergence of neurological or psychiatric diseases in TBI victims as they suffer the long-term effects of the head injuries.

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