While head injuries and repeated concussions are known to dramatically increase the likelihood of long-term cognitive injuries, the underlying cause of that long-term impairment is still being speculated upon. And one group of researchers thinks it might be due to an immune response — which means some injuries could be suppressed by something as simple as a pill.
According to Popular Science magazine, Jeffrey Bazarian, a physician at the University of Rochester Medical Center, says jostling of the brain which doesn’t qualify as a concussion may trigger an autoimmune response that attacks the brain. A paper Bazarian recently co-authored found incidental evidence immune cells harm the brain, although it wasn’t set up to prove that thesis.
The data doesn’t “really prove causality, so that’s why more work needs to be done, but I still think it’s provocative,” said Bazarian. However, if the theory did come to something, the implications for the treatment of brain injuries could amount to a quantum leap. “We could talk about, ‘How do we block this part of the immune response with some kind of immune suppressant?’”
Bazarian’s theory revolves around a protein called S100B, which is often found in the brain of those who are known to have suffered head injuries. When S100B is introduced into the bloodstream the body also creates antibodies to attack the protein, which eventually may be introduced to the brain. However, Bazarian cautions that last part is just speculative and needs investigation.
Other theories of the mechanism behind head injuries include actual damage to cells from hits, and the stress put on neurons during their repair by proteins.