Researchers identify protein that predicts concussion severity


December 15, 2014

Topic: concussion

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found that a specific blood protein may indicate exactly how severe a concussion is directly after the injury.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania found that a specific blood protein may indicate exactly how severe a concussion is directly after the injury. The protein is called calpain-cleaved all-spectrin N-terminal fragment, or SNTF.

The study authors conducted previous research involving this protein and discovered that elevated blood levels containing the protein after a mild traumatic brain injury determined whether patients would have a diffuse axonal injury or long-term cognitive dysfunction.

A growing issue
Concussions have been on the rise in recent years, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated. The most notable increase was the rise in concussion-related emergency department visits, suggesting that the concussions are more severe than mild.

The researchers noted they wanted to continue their research on the role that the protein plays in traumatic brain injuries, such as concussions. The scientists wanted to test SNTF's effect on professional athletes and determine whether it was a plausible way to predict the severity of the injury. The findings were published in the Journal of Neurotrauma. 

The study authors used 288 Swedish professional hockey players. Approximately 28 of the players sustained a concussion within the first half of the 2012-2013 season. These players received regular blood drawings and were evaluated daily using the best methods for symptom resolution. An estimated eight of the players had no remaining symptoms within a few days of the injury. However, 20 of the players had continual post-concussion symptoms causing them to be out for a period longer than six days. Another 45 players were examined during preseason and 17 were evaluated before and after a concussion-free game.

The study's findings
The researchers discovered elevated levels of the protein in the blood of concussed players between an hour and 144 hours after the injury. The protein is always present in healthy brains, but scientists are unsure at what level. However, it is produced at higher levels in instances where nerve cells are damaged and begin to die. Concussions that cause long-term cognitive issues cause SNTF to gather in long axons within the brain. Elevated blood levels is the way to detect the diffuse axonal injury.

"These results show that SNTF has promise as a blood biomarker for sports-related concussion and beyond. High blood levels of SNTF appear to identify acute brain damage that corresponds with persisting symptoms after concussion," lead authors Robert Siman, Ph.D., and Douglas Smith, M.D., concluded in a statement.

The pair also noted that the findings shed light on the dangers surrounding concussions and suggest that they can cause long-term brain damage and cognitive disorders.


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