This Molecule could be the key to understanding why Concussions have such Long-Term Effects

Imagine you fall down the stairs in your house and bang your head. Or perhaps you hit your noggin during a car accident. Or maybe you are football player who has just taken yet another blow to the head. You are diagnosed with a mild or a severe concussion, and you end up in a hospital and even an ICU.

Eventually your injury heals weeks later, or so it seems, because your CT scans look clear, and you go on with your life. But in a few years, strange things start to happen. Bright lights and loud noises begin to bother you. You have trouble sleeping. You can’t concentrate, can’t keep up with your daily routine and your work performance plummets. That’s because deep within your brain, in the areas where the imaging technology can’t see, that old injury never healed. Instead, it became a chronic inflammatory process that will eventually damage your brain tissues, explains a study published this month in Science.

According to a 2018 study in the Journal of Neurosurgery, about 69 million individuals around the world suffer from traumatic brain injury every year. Geoffrey T. Manley, a trauma neurosurgeon at San Francisco General Hospital and professor of neurosurgery at the University of California San Francisco who wasn’t involved in the study, sees patients every week who seem to recover, only to suffer from debilitating symptoms later that develop as a consequence of the initial injury. Over time, this slow-brewing process can trigger cognitive impairments, sleep disturbances from abnormal neuron firing and even epileptic spikes—short “electrical explosions" that don’t happen in healthy people. Manley says this process is very prominent in brain injury patients and is severely disabling. The inability to have a normal, healthy sleep is particularly detrimental. “Sleep disorders affect all aspects of your life,” he says.

Neuroscientists had known for years that brain injuries can linger, but the underlying molecular mechanisms weren’t fully clear. They don’t have any therapies to stop these secondary injuries from occurring. “I have no treatment for traumatic brain injury other than symptomatic relief, or medication for seizures once patients