- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 25, 2021

Soldiers who have been exposed to shockwaves from explosions are at a higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new U.S. Army-funded study on how such blasts affect the brain.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke working with the U.S. Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command, the Army Research Laboratory and the National Institutes of Health found the neurological complications may be rooted in alterations to the tiny connections between neurons in the hippocampus, the part of the brain dealing with building memories and social behavior.

“Blasts can lead to debilitating neurological and psychological damage, but the underlying injury mechanisms are not well understood,” said Frederick Gregory, Ph.D., a program manager at the Army Research Office.

Alzheimer’s could be an issue even when an explosion doesn’t result in traumatic brain injuries, researchers said.

The lab team tested the theory by exposing healthy tissue of a rat hippocampus to controlled military blast waves. The testing reduced the components of brain connections needed for memory. Also, the distinct electrical activity from the connections was “sharply diminished.” The effects were found even in tissue that seemed otherwise healthy, researchers said.

“The finding may explain those many blast-exposed individuals returning from war zones with no detectable brain injury but who still suffer from persistent neurological symptoms, including headaches, irritability and memory problems,” said professor Ben Bahr from UNC-Pembroke.

Increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease is likely rooted in the exposure of troops to blasts causing disruption of the neurological connections, researchers said.

“Understanding the molecular pathophysiology of blast-induced brain injury and potential impacts on long-term brain health is extremely important to understand in order to protect the lifelong health and well-being of our servicemembers,” Dr. Gregory said.

The study was published in Brain Pathology, the medical journal of the International Society of Neuropathology, and funded by the Army Research Office.

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