A Case for a Prospective Therapeutic Method for Brain Swelling During Concussions

Concussions are traumatic brain injuries that change the way a brain performs. More often than not, concussions are caused by a blow to the head or violent shaking to the head or upper body region. The devastating condition is commonly caused by contact sports- such as football, car accidents, falls, and assaults. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports a startling average of deaths and lasting disabilities due to traumatic brain injuries every year in the United States.

One of the leading causes to the significantly high death rate in patients who experience a mild concussion is the edema of astrocytes, or swelling. Astrocytes are cells that tile the entire central nervous system. Astrocytes are the most profuse cell type in the brain, outnumbering neurons 5:1.

The swelling of the brain during a concussion can vastly increase the asperity of the injury. Fortunately, biomedical engineering researchers at the University of Arkansas have discovered an FDA-approved drug- Acetazolamide, that is commonly used for altitude sickness and epilepsy, to be the therapeutic solution. Preliminary treatment to the cells with the Acetazolamide has proven to reduce the pronouncement of a specified protein, aquaporin-4, that generates swelling.

A recent issue of Nature’s Scientific Reports published the researchers’ uncovering of the therapeutic treatment.

“Our study found that mild traumatic brain injury resulted in increased expression of a protein called aquaporin-4, which caused a massive cellular influx of fluid, leading to increased astrocyte cell volume and injury,” said Kartik Balachandran, assistant professor of biomedical engineering. “We then worked with a drug called Acetazolamide. Our results showed that Acetazolamide minimized cell swelling and injury, suggesting a therapeutic role for this drug in reducing the detrimental effects of concussions.”

Nasya Sturdivant, a doctoral candidate; Jeffrey Wolchok, a biomedical engineering assistant professor; and FDA’s National Center for Toxicological Research conducted research along with Balachandran.

The researchers’ collaboration has led to a possible therapeutic advancement along with a creation of a benchtop bioreactor. In order to examine astrocyte cells, the researchers engineered a benchtop bioreactor. The device led the researchers to uncover that mild traumatic brain injuries lead to an assertion of aquaporin-4. Aquaporin-4 is a protein that leads to a vast influx of fluid. The assertion of aquaporin-4 causes an increased astrocyte cell volume.

The researchers’ collaborative efforts are an encouraging indication that there is a case for therapeutic options for brain swelling during concussions.

The National Science Foundation funded the research.

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