JUL 05, 2018 07:03 PM PDT

Understanding the Molecular Impact of Blunt Force Trauma

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Researchers have found evidence of brain injury in former NFL players after their deaths. Many times their families have described erratic behavior including depression and aggression in these individuals in the later years of their lives. Scientists think it’s due to a degenerative disease of the brain called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which seems to be caused by repeated head trauma. A prominent example is Aaron Hernandez, a late NFL player and convicted murderer who eventually committed suicide.

Image of chronic traumatic encephalopathy Date	17 October 2014 Source	http://www-tc.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/art/progs/concussions-cte/h.png Author	Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy

“I grew up watching American football,” said Kassandra Ori-McKenney, an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of California, Davis. “I love it from an athletic perspective, but from a scientific perspective, I just remember watching certain hits and thinking, ‘Oh man, how is that affecting his brain?’”

Ori-McKenney wants to find the molecular and cellular causes underlying CTE and has received a grant to study the role of a specific protein, tau, in traumatic brain injury and neurodegenerative diseases. She sees a strong connection between the presence of tau and neuronal degeneration in the brain.

Structures called microtubules are important for moving stuff around in the cell, and tau helps control that transport. When other proteins alter tau, it can move away from the microtubules and spread to other neurons, leaving a trail of neurodegeneration in its wake.

 The fruit fly, Drosophila, can function as a model for this work, as shown in the short video. “We put the flies in a tube and we hook it up to a spring, which is fastened to a wooden board,” Ori-McKenney explained. “We then pull the tube back, and let go.” The system is meant to mimic “closed-head traumatic brain injury.” The spread of tau can then be monitored in the fly brains. “We’ve gotten to a point where we can do this reliably and reproducibly,” she said.

“Dr. Ori-McKenney’s work on the interaction of microtubule-binding proteins is fundamentally important in healthy and diseased human cells,” said Mark Winey, dean of the College of Biological Sciences and a Pew Biomedical Scholar alumnus. “This is a significant achievement that recognizes Dr. Ori-McKenney’s stellar research record, innovative thinking and promise for the future.”  

There is an opportunity to integrate several fields of study with this work.

“A number of labs have studied behaviors such as mating and aggression in male flies to the point where they can be categorized and quantified,” Ori-McKenney said. “I would, therefore, love to take this research to the next level and study different types of behavior and how they may be altered in response to traumatic brain injury.”

For more information about CTE, check out the following video.

Source: UC Davis

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on 28 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 60 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
OCT 22, 2019
Genetics & Genomics
OCT 22, 2019
Modified CRISPR Can Manipulate Gene Activity in Neurons
There are challenges to working with nerve cells in the lab, which can create research bottlenecks in the study of neurological disease....
OCT 22, 2019
OCT 22, 2019
Bacterial Enzyme Strips Inflammatory Carbohydrate From Meat
Humans don't make a carbohydrate called Neu5Gc, but most mammals, including cows, do....
OCT 22, 2019
OCT 22, 2019
Researchers Identify Pair of "Recruiters" that Pull T Cells to the Lungs
How do CD8 T cells make it to the lungs to help in the fight against infection? Why don’t T cells remain longer in the lungs? How can science optimiz...
OCT 22, 2019
Drug Discovery & Development
OCT 22, 2019
Compound in Daffodils Can Help Fight Cancer
Preventing the growth of tumors presents a challenge for scientists in finding a cure to cancer. Now however, researchers from the University Libre de Brux...
OCT 22, 2019
OCT 22, 2019
Scientists Create Memory of Courtship Song in Zebra Finches
A new study published in Science shows how a neural circuit in Zebra finches, involved in forming the learning of a courtship song, can be manipulated.&nbs...
OCT 22, 2019
Cell & Molecular Biology
OCT 22, 2019
Improving the Ways Scientists Model Organs and Disease
Organoids - miniature, simplified versions of organs made from stem cells, are a great way to model human biology and disease....
Loading Comments...