People with brain injuries after head trauma might have buildup of the plaques related to Alzheimer’s disease in their brains, a new study suggests.

PT_news-01Findings are published in the Feb. 3 online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

A corresponding editorial points out during the past decade the rate of ED visits related to traumatic brain injury has increased by 70%. The editorial also notes an estimated 3 million to 5 million Americans live with a TBI-related disability.

“The study is small and the findings preliminary; however, we did find an increased buildup of amyloid plaques in people who had previously sustained a traumatic brain injury,” study author David Sharp, MD, professor at Imperial College London, in the United Kingdom, said in a news release. “The areas of the brain affected by plaques overlapped those areas affected in Alzheimer’s disease, but other areas were involved. After a head injury, people are more likely to develop dementia, but it isn’t clear why. Our findings suggest a TBI leads to the development of the plaques, which are a well-known feature of Alzheimer’s disease.”

For the study, nine people with an average age of 44 who had a single moderate to severe TBI underwent PET and MRI brain scans. Their brain injuries had occurred between 11 months and 17 years before the start of the study. The participants were compared with 10 people who had Alzheimer’s disease and nine healthy participants.

The PET scans used a marker that detects plaques in the brain. The MRI scans used diffusion tensor imaging to detect damage to brain cells that occurs after a TBI. Both the people with brain injuries and the people with Alzheimer’s disease had plaques in the posterior cingulate cortex, which is affected early in Alzheimer’s, but results showed only those with brain injuries had plaques in the cerebellum. The researchers also found plaques were increased in patients with more damage to the brain’s white matter.

“It suggests that plaques are triggered by a different mechanism after a traumatic brain injury,” Sharp said in the release. “The damage to the brain’s white matter at the time of the injury may act as a trigger for plaque production.

“If a link between brain injury and later Alzheimer’s disease is confirmed in larger studies, neurologists may be able to find prevention and treatment strategies to stave off the disease earlier,” he said in the release.

The study was supported by the Imperial College Healthcare Trust Biomedical Research Center.

Study abstract: http://neurology.org/lookup/doi/10.1212/WNL.0000000000002413

Editorial: http://neurology.org/lookup/doi/10.1212/WNL.0000000000002426