In recent years, researchers have highlighted the potential long-term effects of traumatic brain injury, which include increased risk of dementia and other neurological disorders. Now, a new study has uncovered a drug that shows promise for reducing the brain damage caused by such an injury.

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The drug MW151 was found to reduce inflammation in the brain after TBI by blocking a pro-inflammatory cytokine, while maintaining the brain’s repair process.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is defined as a bump, jolt or blow to the head that interferes with normal brain functioning.

Falls, motor vehicle accidents and assault are some of the most common causes of TBI, and people who play contact sports are particularly at risk.

Symptoms of TBI include headache, dizziness, fatigue, problems with concentration and memory and poor motor control, though how long these symptoms last depends on the severity of injury. In more severe cases, symptoms can last for weeks or months.

Increasingly, studies have suggested that TBIs can have even longer-term effects on the brain. Recent research reported by Medical News Today, for example, found evidence of Alzheimer’s brain plaques in people who had suffered a TBI from 11 months to 17 years previously.

As such, there is more focus than ever on identifying ways to reduce both the short- and long-term effects of brain damage caused by TBI.

In a new study published in PLOS One, lead study author Adam Bachstetter, PhD, assistant professor in the Spinal Cord & Brain Injury Research Center and the Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology at the University of Kentucky, and colleagues reveal how an experimental drug called MW151 could do just that.

Study coauthor Linda Van Eldik, PhD, of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging and the Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology at Kentucky, explains that after a head injury, the body tells immune cells to respond to the trauma and begin the healing process.

Fast facts about TBI
  • TBI contributes to more than 30% of all injury deaths in the US
  • In 2010, around 2.5 million emergency department visits, hospitalizations or deaths in the US were linked to TBI
  • Between 2006-2010, men were almost three times as likely to die from TBI than women.

Learn more about TBI

“Although these immune cells help repair the injury, they also cause inflammation that may damage the tissue – a sort of double-edged sword,” she adds.

Previously, the researchers found that MW151 blocked the release of harmful chemicals that triggered inflammation in a rodent model of closed head injury – a form of TBI in which the brain knocks against the skull – while maintaining the immune cells that repair brain damage.

Additionally, the researchers found that MW151 was able to reduce cognitive impairment caused by closed head injury.

For the new study, the team tested MW151 against a mouse model of mild fluid percussion injury (mFPI), which represents a more severe form of TBI called diffuse axonal injury (DAI).

In DAI, brain injury occurs over a more widespread area as a result of the brain moving back and forth in the skull. It is most common in shaking injuries or motor vehicle accidents.

When the mouse models were treated with MW151, the researchers found that the drug suppressed levels of a pro-inflammatory cytokine in the brain called interleukin-1 beta (IL-1β), which reduced inflammation without interfering with the brain’s repair process.

Commenting on the findings, Bachstetter says:

We were delighted to see that MW151 is effective in more than one model of TBI. MW151 appears to dampen down the detrimental inflammatory responses without suppressing the normal functions that the cells need to maintain health.”

Van Eldik believes their findings could have a significant impact on the treatment of TBI, an injury that she says represents a “major unmet clinical need.”

“[…] there is currently no effective therapy to prevent the increased risk of dementia and other neurologic complications, such as post-traumatic epilepsy, neuropsychiatric disorders, and post-concussive symptoms such as headaches, sleep disturbances, memory problems, dizziness, and irritability,” she adds.

“MW151 represents an important next step in the process to help people with TBI, including soldiers, athletes, car accident victims and others.”

The researchers say they hope to begin clinical trials of MW151, assessing its effects in people with TBI, within the next few years.

In August 2015, MNT reported on a study suggesting there may be a link between attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and TBI.