The researchers at UCLA trained 20 rats to escape from a maze and then used a type of fluid that produces a concussion-like brain injury on half of them. They discovered that the rats that sustained brain injuries took 25-percent longer to escape the maze than those that didn't.
The team then drew RNA from the rats' hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for regulating learning and memory, and from leukocytes, white blood cells that play a key role in the immune system. They found that the rats that sustained brain injuries had a core group of 268 genes in their hippocampus altered, whereas a core group 0f 1,215 genes in the leukocytes had been changed.
"A surprise was how many major changes occurred to genes in the blood cells," Yang said. "The changes in the brain were less surprising. It's such a critical region, so it makes sense that when it's damaged, it signals to the body that it's under attack."
Researchers also discovered that nearly two dozen of the changed genes had been found in both the hippocampus and the blood, which they say presents the possibility of a gene-based blood test being able to determine whether a brain injury has occurred following a head trauma. This methodology may also make it possible for doctors to predict whether a head injury may lead to particular neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. The new study has opened up a new avenue for helping doctors diagnose mild traumatic injuries better.
The researchers are now looking closely into the master genes identified in the study to find out whether it's possible to cause changes in other genes through modifications. In that case, the master genes present many opportunities for new treatments. They also have their sights on studying the phenomenon in people who have suffered from brain injuries.
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