While most of us know the symptoms of a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) – ranging from a simple headache to long-term problems with memory and thinking, depending on the severity –  few are aware that such an injury can also increase risk for Parkinson’s disease.

While for a long time Traumatic Brain Injury was known to be a risk factor for Parkinson’s, no one knew why until recently when scientists have found the mechanism for this elevated, long-term risk of Parkinson’s.

They found that even a mild brain injury in rats caused a 15 percent loss in the brain cells known as nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons shortly after the trauma, and that this loss continued to progress to a 30 percent loss 26 weeks after the initial injury. In the event of further insult to the brain the threshold for symptoms would be reached faster.

The loss of these particular neurons can result in the cardinal motor symptoms which include rigidity, bradykinesia and tremor observed in Parkinson’s patients. When combined with a highly toxic weed killer Paraquat which is a second known risk factor for Parkinson’s, the loss of nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons doubled to 30 percent much faster.

Nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons are involved in the production of dopamine, which plays an important role in the regulation of movement, among other things. The current study demonstrated that while a traumatic brain injury (TBI) does not cause Parkinson’s, it can make individuals more susceptible to the disorder.

The results of this research suggest that greater attention should be given to the long-term risk of Parkinson’s after even mild (concussion, whiplash…) traumatic brain injury, a specialty if the individual was exposed to both risk factors, brain injury and exposure to Paraquat.

Neurology http://www.neurology.org/content/79/20/2061.short, http://www.neurology.org/content/84/11/1098.abstract

Traumatic brain injury increases risk of Parkinson’s disease, UCLA researchers say http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/traumatic-brain-injury-a-threat-213647

Head injuries and Parkinson’s disease in a case-control study. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24142978

Parkinson’s Disease: News on Causes and Treatment  http://center4research.org/medical-care-for-adults/parkinsons-disease-news-on-causes-and-treatment/

Center for Disease Control. Facts about paraquat. 22, February 2006. http://www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/paraquat/basics/facts.asp.

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