New Marker for Identifying Concussions on the Horizon

By Ruth Kava — Mar 29, 2016
The topic of concussions has been much in the news of late, and it’s been concerning that the condition can be difficult to discern. But a new blood test may make that diagnosis much simpler and more accurate.
shutterstock_365681372 Concussion via Shutterstock

Hit your head? Did a concussion result? There’s no clear way to tell, unless the trauma resulted in a serious bleed into the brain. Now, there may be a way to tell if less dramatic injuries resulted in a concussion.

Researchers, led by Dr. Linda Papa from the Orlando Regional Medical Center in Florida, investigated the utility of a biomarker in detecting less serious brain injuries.

In a paper published in JAMA Neurology, they reported on the time course of the appearance and disappearance of glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) in about 600 patients who had been admitted to emergency rooms because of head injuries that resulted in loss of consciousness, amnesia, or disorientation. These patients were seen within one hour of injury. Blood samples were taken at admission, and regularly thereafter for about seven days.

GFAP has been shown to be important in repair processes after trauma to the central nervous system. Thus, it was thought, it might be a good index of brain trauma if it appeared in the blood for long enough after an injury. And that was indeed the case.

The researchers found that blood levels of GFAP were elevated within an hour after a head injury, and peaked at about 20 hours post-injury. GFAP levels then slowly declined over the next 72 hours, but were still detectable one week post-injury.

Concussions and their prevention and treatment have been in the news of late — especially in sport-related occurrences in young players. Their long-term impacts have caused many to shy away from allowing kids to play sports such as soccer or football in which head contacts might result.

A test that could determine early if a traumatic brain injury had occurred would be beneficial in for both early diagnosis and for research into how best to design protective gear. Hopefully, future research will confirm the results of this study and allow better understanding of concussions and other types of traumatic brain injury.

For more information on concussions, see the ACSH publication here.

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