Head injuries could cause serious mental illnesses by changing genes in the brain, UCLA researchers found in a recent study.
The study found that people who have serious head injuries may develop the same genes associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, Parkinson’s disease and other mental disorders.
According to the study published in the EBioMedicine journal last month, injuries can alter master genes, which are genes that control other genes throughout the body. As a result, genes may be reprogramed to lead to brain disorders.
Additionally, researchers found they may be able to predict how traumatic brain injuries will develop by looking at the genomes of leukocytes, or white blood cells.
In the study, researchers gave rats a fluid to stimulate a brain injury. They then removed samples of RNA from the injured rats’ white blood cells and their hippocampi, areas of the brain associated with learning. The researchers found alterations in both hippocampi genes and white blood cell genes from the injured rats versus those from a control group of noninjured rats.
More than 100 of the altered genes in the injured rats resembled genes present in the brains of individuals with neurological disorders.
Researchers also put the rats in a maze. Injured rats took about 25 percent longer than the uninjured control group to go through the maze.
About two dozens of the altered genes in the injured rats were found both in their hippocampi and white blood cells, which reveals that scientists may be able to create a blood test to detect a brain injury and, subsequently, potential mental diseases.
Though the study’s findings reveal a connection between brain injury and mental disorders, researchers said individuals with head injuries will not necessarily develop the same mental disorders. The study only provides information on how some illnesses may develop.
The researchers are now studying master genes and whether modifying them causes changes in large numbers of other genes in the body. If this is the case, master genes could be targets for mental disease treatments, according to the press release.