Investigators at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) have uncovered new research that provides evidence directly linking traumatic brain injury (TBI) to both Alzheimer’s disease and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), both of which are neuro-degenerative diseases. The findings of the study were recently published in the online publication Nature.
Those most at risk of TBI are contact sportspersons and those who serve in the military who are exposed to detonations. These two sets of individuals have significantly increased risk for both Alzheimer’s and CTE.
Researchers discovered that “a misshapen isoform of the tau protein can develop as soon as twelve hours after TBI, setting in motion a destructive course of events that can lead to widespread neurodegeneration.” Previously, it was discovered that the protein exists in two shapes - one that functions normally and one that causes disease.
The good news is that researchers have already developed an antibody so potent that it can destroy the highly toxic tau protein.
Co-senior author Kun Ping Lu, MD, PhD, Chief of the Division of Translational Therapeutics in the Department of Medicine at BIDMC and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School (HMS) explains "TBI is a leading cause of death and disability in children and young adults and also affects approximately 20 percent of the more than two million troops who have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan,” "Our study shows that an early neurodegenerative process induced by the toxic tau protein can begin just hours after a traumatic brain injury. In both cell models of stress and in mouse models simulating sport- and military-related TBI, the production of this pathogenic protein, called cis P-tau, disrupts normal neurological functioning, spreads to other neurons and leads to widespread neuronal death. We have developed a potent monoclonal antibody that can prevent the onset of widespread neurodegeneration by identifying and neutralizing this toxic protein and restoring neurons' structural and functional abilities."
Globally Alzheimer’s is fast becoming a leading cause of death in people over the age of 65 and is the most common form of dementia. CTE is a degenerative brain disease identified by a number of behavioural symptoms that include risk-taking, aggression and depression and can lead to dementia.
This ground-breaking study is the first link to be found between Alzheimer’s and CTE, offering a potentially positive antibody to treat traumatic brain injury and perhaps even treat neurodegeneration.