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Football brain injuries linked to autoimmune phenomenon

Ohio brain-injury victims and neuroscience buffs alike may take interest in new studies by the University of Rochester Medical Center and the Cleveland Clinic, which propose that some brain injuries that result in long-term brain degeneration could be attributed to an autoimmune response similar to what patients of multiple sclerosis experience. Many scientists now agree that receiving repeated, sub-concussive hits to the head, which football players often endure, could lead to brain injury disorders later on in life. However, these new studies suggest that brain injuries caused by repeated hits to the head might be caused by a response of the body's immune system rather than simply being the result of traumatic force.

This recent theory states that when the body receives hits to the head, the barrier that separates the brain from the blood opens slightly. This allows some of the proteins and molecules that protect the brain from foreign substances to leak into the bloodstream, which in turn weakens the brain's protection. 

To support this theory, scientists discovered S100B, a protein that generally indicates traumatic brain injuries, in the bloodstreams of 67 football players after every football game they played. Even though none of the football players suffered any concussions during any of the games, the research team states that their findings suggest that even normal hits in football play have an impact on the barrier separating the brain from the blood and possibly the brain itself.

Furthermore, the team discovered that after S100B was released into the bloodstream, the body began to produce antibodies against it. They also noted that some of the antibodies leaked through the damaged barrier and began to attack the healthy brain cells that produced the protein.

Brain injuries are certainly serious matters, especially when they are caused on the job. They can lead to serious neurological disorders that can prevent people from performing competently in their professional lives as well as in their personal ones. Awareness for sports-related concussions has risen, but research about the long-term consequences to the brain is still sparse. This new research could assist those players seeking compensation for their sports-related brain injuries.

Source: Medical Xpress, "Brain injury may be autoimmune phenomenon, like multiple sclerosis, research finds," March 6, 2013.

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