Mild traumatic brain injuries can result in long-term cognitive issues. According to research in mice, a new, low-intensity form of magnetic stimulation could be the first effective treatment for these injuries.
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be mild or severe, but each case signals a disruption in the usual functioning of the brain.
Doctors tend to refer to less serious TBIs as concussions. These events are more common, resulting from the likes of car accidents, falls, and sports injuries.
Symptoms range from headaches, dizziness, and nausea to problems with cognitive and sleeping functions.
Most people completely recover from a concussion in a short period of time, but some may experience lasting effects — especially if they have had a mild TBI before. Multiple concussions can lead to memory problems and issues with concentration and balance.
Concussions can be particularly problematic for young people, whose brains have not yet fully developed. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, more than 800,000 children received treatment in U.S. emergency departments for some form of TBI in 2014.
“[TBI] is a clinical condition that poses significant challenges to patients, families, and health professionals,” notes Dr. Yanbo Zhang, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine, in Canada.
“Patients can suffer long-lasting cognitive impairments [and] emotional and behavioral changes. Currently, we do not have effective treatment to improve the cognitive impairment,” he explains.
Dr. Zhang is the co-author of an investigation into a potential new treatment for concussion, the findings of which appear in the Journal of Neurotrauma.
He and a team from the University of Saskatchewan examined the use of low-field magnetic stimulation (LFMS).
This noninvasive technique is a form of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation. Researchers first used this technique to painlessly stimulate nerves and the brain in 1985.
LFMS has shown particularly promising results in treating mental health conditions, according to Harvard Medical School’s McLean Hospital, in Boston, MA. Some people report immediate improvements in their mood after undergoing the therapy.
But Dr. Zhang and his fellow researchers found that stimulating certain areas of the brain also improved concussion symptoms in mice.
Using a weight-drop technique, the team gave each mouse a TBI in the right hemisphere of the brain. They repeated the injury once a day for 3 days.
The researchers administered LFMS to the mice in the treatment group immediately after the TBIs. This lasted 20 minutes a day for 4 days in a row.
The results showed that the mice could perform a number of cognitive and motor tests within 4 days of LFMS treatment. Tasks included finding their way through a maze, running on a wheel without falling off, and walking in a straight line.
In fact, the rodents’ performance levels were almost back to normal within this time frame. The researchers also observed that regular sleep patterns resumed, suggesting that the animals’ body clocks were no longer affected by the concussions.
The investigators recorded a change in the levels of proteins that safeguard the brain from inflammation and degeneration. These, too, reverted to normal after 4 days of LFMS exposure.
Conversely, mice that had not received LFMS therapy could not successfully perform the same physical or neurological tasks.
A longer study in rodents is next on the cards. If that provides positive results, a human trial will eventually test the effectiveness of LFMS on mild TBIs.
“The beauty of this therapy is not only that it is effective, but that it is noninvasive, easy to use, and cost-effective.”
Prof. Changiz Taghibiglou, lead researcher of the present study