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Coleman Laboratory


Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is an injury to the brain caused by head trauma. It often results from road accidents, collision sports or falls, so the prevalence is high. Blast injuries suffered by military personnel are a related problem.  Axons, the long ‘wire-like’ processes linking nerve cells together that are closely studied in our laboratory, are particularly vulnerable when head injury occurs. Their long, thin shape causes them to be stretched when sudden deceleration and acceleration forces act on the brain.

We study both the short- and long-term consequences of TBI. In the short-term, stretching axons can cause them to degenerate, and since we have ways to block one pathway of axon degeneration (see ‘Wallerian degeneration’), we need to know whether this mechanism is how axons die after a TBI. In the longer-term, TBI is an important risk factor for both Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Depending on the severity of the TBI, the risk of these diseases is thought to increase between 2-4 fold. Another project within the group aims to find out why, by studying proteins in brains soon after injury that are associated with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

This work can only be done with samples from injured human brains (and from uninjured controls).Brain donations from individuals dying early after a TBI are one source, and the byproducts of clinical monitoring procedures in survivors is another. This is a devastating time for loved ones but, for some, contributing in this way to medical research can help, knowing that one day this could lead to better treatments for TBI and prevention of major neurodegenerative disorders.