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Press Release | Dec. 18, 2020

Brain Injury Signatures Found among Healthy Persons Link to Occupational Blast Exposure

Scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute for Research recently demonstrated that brain-related proteins are linked to low levels of overpressure exposure from weapons and explosives used in training.   

Blast overpressure is the displacement of air above normal atmospheric pressure. Service Members are exposed to overpressure generated by heavy caliber weapons or from explosive breaching (making entry points to secured structures) in combat and during routine training. Repeated exposure is associated with increased prevalence of health problems including disrupted sleep, difficulty thinking, headaches and dizziness. Blast overpressure exposure is also linked to increased risk of traumatic brain injury and post-concussion syndrome.   

In recent publications cited within PLoS One and Frontiers in Neurology, WRAIR scientists adapted protein detection technology to identify TBI-related biomarkers among military personnel exposed to blast overpressure. Within a few hours, these blood-based biomarker changes were seen even when concussion-like symptoms were reported by few personnel, suggesting a high degree of sensitivity. These publications are some of the first to show that multiple blood-based TBI biomarkers are affected soon after overpressure exposure, even in the absence of a brain injury diagnosis.  

“Early survey of blood biomarker dynamics is worth further evaluation as it may enhance our ability to objectively monitor Soldier health without a clinically defined concussion,” discussed study authors, Dr. Angela Boutte and Dr. Bharani Thangavelu.   

Dr. Walter Carr, a leading WRAIR brain health researcher, emphasized the potential impact of blast overpressure exposure experienced by military personnel stating, “Low level blast exposure within routine military training should not be expected to result in acute, gross behavioral deficits for the majority of personnel. However, repeated exposure across years does correlate with symptomology, especially when a history of chronic exposure is exacerbated by new, large magnitude exposures.”

Ongoing research is focused on evaluating these brain-related proteins and other biomarkers, as well as symptoms, within larger study groups who are routinely exposed to blast overpressure while remaining fit for duty.  Blood-based biomarkers have the potential to serve indicators of blast overpressure exposure in absence of a direct impact to the head.