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Spit for Concussion

A spit-based test to assess microRNA levels might be able to gauge how long the effects of a child's concussion will last, NPR reports.

Concussion symptoms typically last a few days, but for some kids, the effects can linger for months, NPR adds. As injured brain cells leak microRNAs as they heal, a team of Pennsylvania State University researchers examined whether the concentration of salivary miRNAs could identify kids who will have prolonged concussion symptoms.

"Parents often say that their biggest concern is, 'When is my child going to be back to normal again?'" Penn State's Steven Hicks tells NPR. "And that's something we have a very difficult time predicting."

As they report in JAMA Pediatrics this week, Hicks and his colleagues examined the levels of five miRNAs in the spit of 52 patients between the ages of 7 years and 21 years. The patients were all clinically diagnosed with concussion and also underwent a standard concussion evaluation.

Hicks and his colleagues found that the five miRNAs they examined could predict concussion severity with about 85 percent accuracy, better than the standard survey. The level of one miRNA in particular — miR-320c — was linked to difficulty paying attention a month after the injury occurred, they report, suggesting that kids with low levels of this miRNA might benefit from cognitive rest, additional testing time, and tutoring.