How Traumatic Brain Injury Can Trigger Neurodegenerative Disorders

Clinicians Reviewing Brain Scan on Monitor

It has become increasingly clear in research that a traumatic brain injury, even a mild one, can trigger an earlier onset of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's disease. However, the exact mechanism of how these triggers occur is not well understood.

Glutamate, which is a neurotransmitter found in great abundance in the brain, is important for stimulating neurons, especially for brain functions such as memory and learning. An event such as a traumatic brain injury can cause a sharp peak in glutamate, creating an overstimulated environment in which neurons cannot cope or survive.

The sharp peak of glutamate also triggers changes in brain metabolism, calcium levels, and mitochondrial function-creating a toxic environment in the brain. Certain drugs, supplements and foods, such as metformin, curcumin, vitamin K2, or statins have been shown to stabilize glutamate and may provide preventative strategy for reducing the risk of developing neurodegenerative disorders after traumatic brain injury.

Mehta A, Prabhakar M, Kumar P, et al. Excitotoxicity: Bridge to various triggers in neurodegenerative disorders. European Journal of Pharmacology. (December 2012).