In evidence generated from a ten-year study on Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI, a team led by researchers from Rutgers University have found two molecules that could be the key to the development of new drugs used to treat traumatic brain injuries.

According to Mayo Clinic a TBI is described as the following;

Traumatic brain injury usually results from a violent blow or jolt to the head or body. An object that penetrates brain tissue, such as a bullet or shattered piece of skull, also can cause traumatic brain injury.

Mild traumatic brain injury may affect your brain cells temporarily. More-serious traumatic brain injury can result in bruising, torn tissues, bleeding and other physical damage to the brain. These injuries can result in long-term complications or death.”

These two molecules from the study and their effects on the brain, are not just now being discovered — the molecules and how they interact with the brain and neuron synapses are now beginning to be fully understood.

The molecules; glutamate and cypin, have profound effects on how severe a TBI will become. Not all negative effects generated from a TBI are from the actual blow to the head, but how the brain responds to the trauma.

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The first molecule’s, glutamate, effects on the brain in a post-traumatic brain injury state has already been established. When a TBI occurs, the neurotransmitter glutamate is released. Glutamate is vital to normal brain function; it is responsible for transmitting signals between individual nerve cells as well as aids in learning and memory. However, in a post TBI environment, glutamate floods the brain causing the cells that are activated by glutamate to become overexcited. This causes cell damage and or brain cell death.

However, the brain has a compound that is released in defense of further brain damage. This compound, called cypin, acts as a sort of block, preventing glutamate from attacking and killing the neurons.

Researchers have identified two compounds that seem to increase the production of cypin in the brain. When these compounds are introduced into damaged brain cells, not only did the neurons survive, but they began to exhibit correct electrical signals again. Essentially, the connections necessary for learning and memory recovered.

The next step would be to develop these compounds into viable drugs that can then be tested on humans suffering from the effects of a TBI, in the hopes of not only relieving the symptoms but perhaps reversing the impact on the brain.

While the exact numbers of U.S. Veterans who have sustained TBI’s while training or fighting are not known, the VA estimates that 22% of casualties from both Afghanistan and Iraq were brain injuries. A viable treatment for alleviating and potentially reversing the effects of TBI’s in U.S service members, and the world at large, would be a huge breakthrough in neurology and would vastly improve the lives of those affected.

Featured image: Capt. (Dr.) Wesley Reynolds studies a patient’s computed tomography scan at the Mike O’Callaghan Federal Medical Center March 18, 2014, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. March is brain injury awareness month. According to the Brain Injury Association of America, about 75 percent of traumatic brain injuries are concussions or other forms of mild TBIs. Reynolds is a 99th Medical Operations Squadron neurologist. | U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jason Couillard