VCU Press Release

I thought I would post a Virgina Commonwealth University finding, begin press release;


Mild Traumatic Brain Injury May Alter the Brain’s Neuronal Circuit Excitability and Contribute to Brain Network Dysfunction

RICHMOND, Va. (May 10, 2012) – Even mild head injuries can cause significant abnormalities in brain function that last for several days, which may explain the neurological symptoms experienced by some individuals who have experienced a head injury associated with sports, accidents or combat, according to a study by Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine researchers.

These findings, published in the May issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, advance research in the field of traumatic brain injury (TBI), enabling researchers to better understand what brain structural or functional changes underlie posttraumatic disorders – a question that until now has remained unclear.

Previous research has shown that even a mild case of TBI can result in long-lasting neurological issues that include slowing of cognitive processes, confusion, chronic headache, posttraumatic stress disorder and depression.

The VCU team, led by
Kimberle M. Jacobs, Ph.D. , associate professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology , demonstrated for the first time, using sophisticated bioimaging and electrophysiological approaches, that mild injury can cause structural disruption of axons in the brain while also changing the way the neurons fire in areas where they have not been structurally altered. Axons are nerve fibers in the brain responsible for conducting electrical impulses. The team used models of mild traumatic brain injury and followed morphologically identified neurons in live cortical slices.

“These findings should help move the field forward by providing a unique bioimaging and electrophysiological approach to assess the evolving changes evoked by mild TBI and their potential therapeutic modulation,” said co-investigator,
John T. Povlishock, Ph.D. , professor and chair of the VCU School of Medicine’s Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology and director of the Commonwealth Center for the Study of Brain Injury.

According to Povlishock, additional benefit may also derive from the use of this model system with repetitive injuries to determine if repeated insults exacerbate the observed abnormalities.

The work was supported in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health, grant numbers: NS077675, HD055813, NS047463, and NS007288.


About VCU and the VCU Medical Center:  Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located on two downtown campuses in Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 216 certificate and degree programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-nine of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University compose the VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see

6 thoughts on “VCU Press Release

  1. Military spouse May 11, 2012 / 08:08

    It is good to know that they are finally acknowledging the damage that can occur from “mild” brain injuries, which to me is such a misnomer. If you suffer from debilitating headaches and decreased cognitive functions such as your ability to mutil-task, there is nothing “mild” about it. Thankfully, they are finally identifying the problems. Now, praying that they figure out how to repair the damage and allow these individuals to get back to a normal life without pain. Thanks for posting this article!

  2. Don Brady, PhD, PsyD, NCSP, Licensed Psychologist May 11, 2012 / 08:13

    These findings seem to support the notion that as brain-related tests become more sensitive to detecting brain injury…additional and significant brain damage is found…

    Related research pertaining to the recent published findings is found in the below excerpt from my 2004 PhD related Dissertation research entitled:

    A Preliminary Investigation of Active and Retired NFL Players’ Knowledge of Concussions

    Symonds (1962) reported that clinical evidence has existed since the 1940s supporting the theory that not only does neuron damage occur after a person sustains a concussion, but that repeated minor injury could result in progressive and permanent loss. In addition, the brain is unable to regenerate after sustaining an injury (Cantu, 1996; Poirier & Wadsworth, 2000). Cantu (1996) expressed significant concern regarding brain injury when he pointed out that the brain is not capable of regeneration or transplantation. He further added that “every effort must be made to protect the athlete’s head [brain] as injury can lead to dementia, epilepsy, paralysis and
    death” (p. 289).

    Strich’s historical research, conducted in the 1950s and early 1960s, pointed out that severe brain injury resulted in axon damage while also supporting previous studies pertaining to nerve cell damage occurring in the brainstem and white matter and related shearing forces (Eldon & Ward, 1994). More specifically, the results of microscopic examination found clinical evidence of shearing of nerve fibers along with diffuse degeneration of white matter during postmortem assessments of persons who had been diagnosed as having a brain injury (Strich, 1961). A modified Marchi method was employed to gather this supporting data. “This [Marchi] method was originally designed to stain the products of acute myelin breakdown and it had to be modified for staining long-standing degeneration” (p. 444).

    Strich (1961) further reported this finding would not have been possible if only cortex samples with little white matter were utilized to evaluate the degeneration of white matter. Therefore, brain samples that surgically cut deeper into the white matter were taken to better assess possible degeneration of white matter. The importance of neuroimaging instruments being better able to probe deeper into the brain was also professed by Kelly and O’Shanick (2002; 2003) when they discussed the ability and value of gradient echo imaging in evaluating the adverse effects of mild brain injury. They reported that gradient echo imaging findings have provided documentation of brain hemorrhages that were reflective of axonal damage.

    Further support for axonal damage findings was revealed by Oppenheimer (1968), who discovered microscopic lesions during postmortem examinations of persons who had experienced mild brain injury and subsequently died from other causes. Reitan and Wolfson (2000) reviewed Oppenheimer’s (1968) study, noting that the findings were comparable to Strich’s earlier research. Among important findings gathered through the use of staining techniques was the notion that these brain lesions found in white matter were caused by several factors: (a) surface shearing and contusion; (b) stretching and tearing of groups of nerve fibers; (c) tearing of nerve fibers via a crossing blood vessel; and (d) stretching and tearing of small blood vessels (Reitan & Wolfson, 2000).

    Kelly (1999) pointed out that diffuse axonal injury is an “anatomical common denominator in TBI” (p. 990). Documentation exists for providing evidence that “minor and moderate TBI’s are associated with change in various foci throughout the brain” (Povlishock & Coburn, 1989, p. 37). These authors not only emphasized that the occurrence of axonal damage has been acknowledged as a consistent finding of the continuum of diagnostic categories of various brain injuries sustained by animals in the laboratory setting, but also suggested that comparable damage occurs in humans who become brain injured.

    Along similar lines, Johnson noted that the primary pathology that results from a person sustaining a concussion is the disruption of neural connections (, 2003). He also pointed out that inattention and difficulty with concentration are presenting symptoms of a more global and inefficient cognitive information processing system that is directly related to the disruption in neural connections.

    • Matt Chaney May 11, 2012 / 08:30

      I’m seeing a distinct legal advantage to classifying severe brain injury like concussion as ‘mild’–it ranks this rampant problem of sport and military below the level of ‘catastrophic’ injuries, thus making it difficult to sue or claim for negligence against programs and personnel. Does anyone realize an initial quest of the celebrated NFL concussion committee and ‘research’ arm, established in 1994, was to see that the qualifier ‘mild’ traumatic brain injury became the predominant term in lexicon? Meanwhile, question looms whether civil actions today–including a current lawsuit against a Montana school and personnel–will establish all diagnosed concussions as catastrophic sort, not only the apparent dozens of severe brain bleeds annually in football that require ICU hospitalization (most involving surgery, the large majority children). If tort law comes to recognize all concussion as severe or grave, juvenile football and possibly the entire game is smoked: insurance carriers will never touch the sport again, not to mention other games and physical activities.

  3. A Concerned Mom May 11, 2012 / 09:17

    “In January, he was playing pick-up soccer with some friends at an Elizabethtown gym. Abell started fighting for a ball on a side of the court, hit his head against a metal pole and was knocked unconscious. It marked his second concussion in three weeks, after he’d suffered one in a car accident.

    Abell was transported to a hospital after the on-field concussion and taken to the emergency room. Although he thought he’d returned to normal, he was far from it.

    FROM BAD TO WORSE. Over the following days, Abell had major headaches. Then came the syncope spells, where he’d become dizzy, lose concentration and pass out. His worst spell came when he was attending a Sunday morning church service in late January or early February. He felt dizzy, grabbed a friend and told him he needed help.

    “So they took me upstairs to lay down. So, I just fell flat, just flat down on my face, knocked unconscious,” Abell said. “I would pass out every couple minutes, like I’d wake up, pass out, not know where I am, have severe memory loss. They took me to the ER and I was there the whole day and they really didn’t know what was going on with me.””

  4. A Concerned Mom May 11, 2012 / 09:22

    “Dr McKinlay said the kit helped parents understand what symptoms may follow even after a mild brain injury and what to do once they occur.

    “In our research, we could detect psychiatric problems including ADHD among teens who had sustained a childhood brain injury,” Dr McKinlay said.

    “There are misconceptions around levels of brain injury and the meaning of recovery, particularly the use of the term concussion as a mild injury, which research states is not the case.

    “Every injury to the head should be taken seriously. Too often children are returned to school without support following a TBI and symptoms such as fatigue or behavioural issues develop.””

  5. A Concerned Mom May 11, 2012 / 09:54

    “Student-athlete Monica Ortwein, 16, has had three concussions. The Scott High School sophomore said her most recent one happened when she hit her head on a wall playing indoor soccer.

    “When I finally realized I was hit, I opened my eyes and saw two of my coaches, and it was blurry. When I got up, I was dizzy,” Ortwein said. “The symptoms kept carrying on for about a week of blurriness, headaches and everything, and maybe three weeks later, I passed out.”

    If she suffers another concussion, she can never play again, and padded headgear is now part of her uniform.”

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