DEC 03, 2020 6:00 AM PST

Spit Contains Concussion Clues

WRITTEN BY: Tara Fernandez

Drowsiness, confusion, headaches, and sensitivity to light — it’s sometimes hard for doctors to spot the signs of a concussion based on the symptoms alone. Typically, CT or MRI head scans are ordered by physicians after a physical examination, but even these tests don’t always get it right. As a consequence, experts agree that concussion diagnoses are confusing for both neurologists and patients alike.

New research from the Penn State College of Medicine has revealed that molecules in saliva could help diagnose this traumatic brain injury in a non-invasive and non-biased way, cutting through this confusion.

Scientists obtained spit samples from a cohort of over 500 individuals and analyzed them, searching for microRNAs — tiny non-coding RNA molecules, each around 22 nucleotides in length. Cells use microRNAs to control the expression of genes, and these short fragments of genetic material are found in abundance inside cells, in the bloodstream, and, importantly, in the brain.

According to the scientists, microRNA levels present in the saliva could be altered after a concussion as there is a network of cranial nerves inside the oral cavity.

“Current methods rely on accurate symptom reporting and honest performance on neurocognitive testing,” said study lead Steve Hicks, associate professor of pediatrics. “Analyzing microRNA profiles in saliva following a head trauma is a non-invasive way to test for concussion that can’t be influenced by a patient’s feelings or motives.”

Around half of the study’s participants had reported a positive concussion diagnosis during the investigation, while the undiagnosed patients displayed symptoms such as fatigue and headaches, which could point towards the possibility of head trauma.

The scientists mapped the RNA profiles within saliva samples using sequencing technologies, creating a blueprint for what concussion-related microRNA changes look like. They then developed this into a diagnostic test, which successfully picked up concussions in 200 additional study participants.

“This method has lots of promising applications,” said Hicks. “A rapid, reliable diagnostic means that early, appropriate action can be taken to alleviate the symptoms of patients with concussions.”

A “spit test” diagnostic device for concussions would fast track clinical interventions for brain injuries, particularly for emergency first responders and for athletes.

 

 

Sources: Clinical and Translational Medicine, Penn State Health News.


 

About the Author
  • Tara Fernandez has a PhD in Cell Biology and has spent over a decade uncovering the molecular basis of diseases ranging from skin cancer to obesity and diabetes. She currently works on developing and marketing disruptive new technologies in the biotechnology industry. Her areas of interest include innovation in molecular diagnostics, cell therapies, and immunology. She actively participates in various science communication and public engagement initiatives to promote STEM in the community.
You May Also Like
OCT 13, 2020
Cardiology
A Kidney Toxin Could Act as a Biomarker for Cardiovascular Risk
OCT 13, 2020
A Kidney Toxin Could Act as a Biomarker for Cardiovascular Risk
Biomarkers have taken the diagnostic field by storm over the past decade. The search for stable, easy to access indicato ...
NOV 11, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Smart Mask Detects COVID Infections, Sends Alert to Phone
NOV 11, 2020
Smart Mask Detects COVID Infections, Sends Alert to Phone
  This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance to put the “mask debate&rdquo ...
NOV 24, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Young Inventor Creates Award-winning At-home Cancer Diagnostic
NOV 24, 2020
Young Inventor Creates Award-winning At-home Cancer Diagnostic
Getting a breast cancer diagnosis often means having to endure multiple tests, including some painful and invasive proce ...
DEC 02, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Digital Platform Watches for a Silent COVID Killer
DEC 02, 2020
Digital Platform Watches for a Silent COVID Killer
 
DEC 29, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Injectable Heart Health Tracker Now Picks Up COVID Red Flags
DEC 29, 2020
Injectable Heart Health Tracker Now Picks Up COVID Red Flags
The statistics are a real eye-opener: in the United States, one person dies every 36 seconds from cardiovascular disease ...
JAN 12, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Hyperactive Mitochondria Can Fuel Brain Tumors
JAN 12, 2021
Hyperactive Mitochondria Can Fuel Brain Tumors
The most common and deadly form of brain cancer is known as glioblastoma; the median survival time for patients is only ...
Loading Comments...