Exposure to bomb blasts may increase risk of Alzheimer’s, military-funded research finds

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Explosives detonate during an FBI-led class at a rock quarry in Jamesville, NY, in October 2020. Even small explosions can alter the molecular structure of the brain and increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, people said. military-funded researchers in an article published by the journal Brain Pathology, February 25, 2021 (Ryan Campbell / New York National Guard)

Explosives detonate during an FBI-led class at a rock quarry in Jamesville, NY, in October 2020. Even small explosions can alter the molecular structure of the brain and increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease, people said. military-funded researchers in an article published by the journal Brain Pathology, February 25, 2021.

Explosives detonate during an FBI-led class at a rock quarry in Jamesville, NY, in October 2020. Even small explosions can alter the molecular structure of the brain and increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, people said. military-funded researchers in an article published by the journal Brain Pathology, February 25, 2021 (Ryan Campbell / New York National Guard)

Marine Corps Sgt.  Danny Ridgeway, with Regimental Combat Team 8, performs a post-blast assessment shortly after an explosives cache found in Sangin, Afghanistan detonated in 2011. Even small explosions can alter the structure. molecular level of the brain and increase the risk of Alzheimer's disease.  , said military-funded researchers in an article published by the journal Brain Pathology on Feb.25, 2021.

Marine Corps Sgt. Danny Ridgeway, with Regimental Combat Team 8, conducts a post-blast assessment shortly after an explosives cache found in Sangin, Afghanistan detonated in 2011. Even small explosions can alter the structure. molecular level of the brain and increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. , said military-funded researchers in an article published by the journal Brain Pathology, Feb. 25, 2021. (Logan Pierce / US Marine Corps)

Troops exposed to shock waves from bomb blasts may be at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological problems, even if they have not suffered a head injury, suggests recent research funded by the army.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke have found that even small explosions – ones that aren’t likely to cause concussions or injuries – change the molecular structure of the brain, according to a study published last week in the journal Brain Pathology.

“This finding may explain the many people exposed to the blasts returning from war zones without detectable brain damage, but still suffering from persistent neurological symptoms, including depression, headaches, irritability and memory problems,” Ben Bahr, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry at UNC-Pembroke, said in an army statement.

Explosions of roadside bombs, rockets and mortar shells have affected many troops deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere over the past 20 years. Traumatic brain injuries and concussions from these explosions often lead to problems with sleep and memory, and sometimes depression that leads to suicide.

Long-term problems may arise from explosions that troops might not recognize as harmful at the time, Bahr said.

“Our interest has focused on the effects of low-level shock waves that soldiers can experience during training and in war zones … where nearby explosions can cause shock waves that can put people down. soldiers on their knees but they are able to stand up with no obvious injuries to the body or the brain, ”Bahr said in an email.

To test the impact of the explosions on the troops, the researchers used slices of rat brains, especially the hippocampus, which plays an important role in learning and memory.

They placed the brain tissue in a makeshift skull: an aquarium filled with hot water. Seven inches from the aquarium was a 1.7 gram explosive charge, capable of a “seemingly harmless level of shock wave intensity,” Bahr said.

The explosion produced a shock wave that pulsed through the air, the reservoir, and then through the water before reaching brain tissue.

The explosion damaged the hippocampus and decreased electrical activity between neurons, said Frederick Gregory, program director for the Army Research Office, which funded the research.

“You start to see the development of proteins associated with Alzheimer’s plaque, as well as a loss of proteins that you need to maintain your synaptic connections with your neurons,” Gregory said on a phone call. These effects could be seen after a single explosion, with other explosions showing cumulative damage, he said.

The research also involved the Development Command Army Research Laboratory and the National Institutes of Health.

The researchers said they plan to examine the effects of the explosions on other parts of the brain.

“Detecting this measurable deterioration early on could improve the diagnosis and treatment of recurrent neuropsychiatric disorders, and reduce the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease later in life,” Bahr said in the statement. army.

lawrence.jp@stripes.com Twitter: @ jplawrence3


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