Concussions are currently elusive on standard imaging methods and currently lack a standard marker. A study done at the University of Birmingham found microRNA, an important component for the synthesis of proteins, as a potential attribute to diagnose concussions.

Traumatic brain injury is caused by a blow to the head and is often separated based on severity. Concussions, or mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), constantly do not appear under structural imaging techniques, such as CT or MRI. Almost all forms of TBI are often diagnosed through observation or a series of questions on the patient’s symptoms, a highly subjective process that can lead to misdiagnosis or mistreatment. As such, a growing amount of research has been devoted towards finding an objective standard, called a biomarker, that indicates the presence of mTBI. microRNA, found in many cells in the body, is responsible for expression of genes by inhibiting transcription of RNA.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham in the UK examined the serum of patients with mild and severe TBI to determine if there were any distinguishable biomarkers. They found two strains of microRNA that were significantly downregulated in patients with mTBI and two different microRNA strains that were significantly upregulated in patients with sTBI. MicroRNA is important in regulating RNA translation, effectively silencing the production of proteins. A downregulation in microRNA in mTBI cases indicates the neuroprotective mechanism of the brain to promote the synthesis of recovery proteins to compensate for those damaged or destroyed during the injury.

Finding an objective biomarker is crucial for diagnosing traumatic brain injury to ensure that proper treatment is given. Repetitive cases of mild traumatic brain injury have been implicated in problems later in life, including alcohol abuse, depression and anxiety, so proper diagnosis following one incident is important to prevent exacerbation or another incident.

Journal of Neurotrauma, 2017. DOI: 10.1089/neu.2016.4857