Concussions are one of the more common, but nevertheless most serious, injuries that consumers can face. This kind of mild traumatic brain injury can occur from a car accident, while playing a contact sport, or during any number of life’s accidental missteps.
But what really happens during a concussion that makes it so dangerous, and is there any way to avoid the negative effects of the injury? Researchers at the University of Arkansas think so. They explain that when a concussion occurs, a certain protein called aquaporin-4 is released during the swelling process.
"Our study found that mild traumatic brain injury resulted in increased expression of a protein called aquaporin-4, which caused a massive cellular influx of fluid, leading to increased astrocyte cell volume and injury," explains Kartik Balachandran, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering.
However, they believe that using an FDA-approved drug called Acetazolamide may help reduce swelling and the influx of aquaporin-4. “Our results showed that Acetazolamide minimized cell swelling and injury, suggesting a therapeutic role for this drug in reducing the detrimental effects of concussions," they said.
Reducing harmful effects
Acetazolamide is most commonly used to treat epilepsy and altitude sickness, but the researchers found that it also does a good job of reducing the expression of aquaporin-4. They came to this discovery after examining astrocyte cells in the brain.
Using a benchtop bioreactor that they engineered, the researchers observed how a mild traumatic brain injury like a concussion caused a large cellular influx of fluid. In turn, the fluid increased astrocyte cell volume, leading to more swelling. But when the researchers applied Acetazolamide, they found that swelling was not as prominent.
"This study demonstrates the collaborative neuro-engineering efforts that are contributing to both diagnostic and therapeutic methods for addressing traumatic brain injury," said Raj Rao, professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Arkansas.