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Study Identifies Potential Link Between Soldiers Exposed to Blasts, Alzheimer’s

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — Research shows that Soldiers exposed to shockwaves from military explosives are at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease — even those that don’t have traumatic brain injuries from those blasts. A new Army-funded study identifies how those blasts affect the brain.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke in collaboration with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, now known as DEVCOM, the Army Research Laboratory, and the National Institutes of Health found that the mystery behind blast-induced neurological complications when traumatic damage is undetected may be rooted in distinct alterations to the tiny connections between neurons in the hippocampus, the part of the brain particularly involved in memory encoding and social behavior.

The research published in Brain Pathology, the medical journal of the International Society of Neuropathology, was funded by the lab’s Army Research Office.

“Blasts can lead to debilitating neurological and psychological damage but the underlying injury mechanisms are not well understood,” said Dr. Frederick Gregory, program manager, ARO. “Understanding the molecular pathophysiology of blast-induced brain injury and potential impacts on long-term brain health is extremely important to understand in order to protect the lifelong health and well-being of our service members.”

The research team tested slices of rat hippocampus by exposing the healthy tissue to controlled military blast waves. In the experimental brain explants (tissue slices maintained alive in culture dishes), the rapid blast waves produced by the detonated military explosives led to selective reductions in components of brain connections needed for memory, and the distinct electrical activity from those neuronal connections was sharply diminished.

The research showed that the blast-induced effects were evident among healthy neurons with subtle synaptic pathology, which may be an early indicator of Alzheimer’s-type pathogenesis occurring independent of overt brain damage.

“This finding may explain those many blast-exposed individuals returning from war zones with no detectable brain injury, but who still suffer from persistent neurological symptoms, including depression, headaches, irritability and memory problems,” said Dr. Ben Bahr, the William C. Friday distinguished professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at UNC-Pembroke.

The researchers believe that the increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease is likely rooted in the disruption of neuronal communication instigated by blast exposures.

“Early detection of this measurable deterioration could improve diagnoses and treatment of recurring neuropsychiatric impediments, and reduce the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease later in life,” Bahr said.

UNC-Pembroke is a minority-serving institution.

By U.S. Army DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory Public Affairs

4 Responses to “Study Identifies Potential Link Between Soldiers Exposed to Blasts, Alzheimer’s”

  1. Gyrfalcon says:

    Its not the first paper suggesting Concussion and TBI are related to all these kind of later issues. There are dozen of papers and whole websites dedicated to it.

  2. jjj0309 says:

    Shell shock, concussions, blasts, stress from battle and lack of sleep, dusts, chemical and lead residues they inhales.. It’s no strange that all of these causes or accelerates Alzheimer’s. God bless for veterans who suffers and battles against post-battle traumas, especially Alzheimer’s. The state need to care and support them, they need support than any others and deserve it.

  3. Emm Gee says:

    The horrible part of all this is that after twenty years of fighting, there is still nothing in any Army (and I assume DoD) regulations, that stipulate when enough is enough. So after my last TBI, two weeks later I was bouncing around in Syria. Since my last TBI it has been all down hill: TIA, Anxiety disorder, panic disorder, hypertension, depression, etc. When are the decisions going to be made?
    It took the D0D twenty years to say that Dioxin (Agent Orange) causes certain cancers, and ten years to say that the FDA approved (for the DoD) mefloquine, gives special attention to the;” “long-term neurological effects, psychiatric effects and the potential development of post-traumatic stress disorder.” Good luck at the VA, y’all: we’re gonnaneedit!