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Biomarkers for a Hurt Brain

Two protein biomarkers linger in the blood of people who've had concussions for up to a week after they were hurt, according to a study appearing in JAMA Neurology.

Researchers from Orlando Regional Medical Center in Florida and elsewhere some 600 adults treated in the emergency room for trauma due to car accidents, falls, and sport injuries, among other causes. About half the patients experienced mild to moderate traumatic brain injury, and the other half did not. The researchers collected blood samples from these patients within four hours of their injury and various time points thereafter.

Orlando's Linda Papa and her colleagues examined these blood samples for the presence of glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) and ubiquitin C-terminal hydrolase L1 (UCH-L1), proteins usually confined to the brain that are thought to enter the bloodstream and circulate after traumatic brain injury.

In their study, Papa and her colleagues found that UCH-L1 levels in the blood increased quickly after injury before peaking at about eight hours later, while GFAP levels rose more slowly but remained detectable in the blood a week after injury, in patients with concussion. Levels of UCH-L1 and GFAP were mildly increased in the trauma patients who didn't experience traumatic brain injury, which the researchers said could be indicative of them bumping their heads during their accident.

In a related editorial, Tanya Bogoslovsky and Ramon Diaz-Arrastia from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences write that this is "substantial step toward validation and ultimate clinical usefulness of 2 candidate diagnostic biomarkers of mTBI."

Papa adds at the Associated Press that there are blood-based tests to uncover issues affecting organs like the heart, liver, and kidneys, "and now we're really coming close to having something for the brain."