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Welcome to 2 minute neuroscience, where I explain neuroscience topics in 2 minutes or
less.
In this installment I will discuss concussions.
A concussion is a type of mild traumatic brain injury that occurs when rapid movement of
the head or an impact to the head causes the brain to move within the skull, potentially
stretching axons and damaging cell membranes of neurons.
When neuronal membranes are disrupted, it can cause the dysregulated flow of ions into
and out of the cell, as well as the increased release of excitatory neurotransmitters like
glutamate, which leads to further disruptions in ionic balance and a general inhibition
of neuronal activity.
Sodium-Potassium pumps work frantically to restore balance, but this causes depletion
of energy stores and an energy crisis that’s compounded by lower than normal levels of
blood flow.
Additionally, the increased glutamate activity prompts excess calcium to enter cells; the
high calcium levels can disrupt the function of mitochondria, amplifying the energy crisis.
The decreased energy availability may last for days to a week or more and impact cognition.
The trauma and subsequent effects can also damage the structural integrity of neurons
and glia, further disrupting brain function.
These structural and biochemical changes are associated with the symptoms of a concussion,
which include (but aren’t limited to) headaches, confusion, memory loss, and dizziness.
After a concussion, patients may also experience an increased susceptibility to another injury,
and repeated concussions have been linked to longer-lasting effects on brain function.
In some cases, patients who have experienced repeated concussions may begin, often years
after the repetitive trauma, to display symptoms of early-onset dementia, mood disturbances,
and Parkinsonian symptoms.
The resultant condition, known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, has also been linked
to the appearance of neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques, which are typically seen
in neurodegenerative diseases like alzheimer’s disease.