PET shows Alzheimer's-like plaque in individuals with traumatic brain injuries

New research shows a possible connection between traumatic brain injury and the presence of amyloid plaques, or deposits in the brain that are usually seen in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease.

In a study published online Nov. 11 in JAMA Neurology, researchers used PET imaging to analyze the brains of 15 people with traumatic brain injury and of 11 individuals without any history of brain trauma. They also examined the brain tissue of individuals who died after receiving a brain injury, as well as those who died of causes unrelated to brain injury.

The images were taken as soon as one day after an accident, and up to a year after the time after a head injury. The researchers found that the greater the blow to the head, the more likely they were to see amyloid accumulations in the brain.

"Our research has shown, for the first time, that PET imaging can show amyloid deposits in the brain after head injury," study author David Menon from the University of Cambridge, England, said, according to in an article in HealthDay News.

Commenting on the study to HealthDay, Mony de Leon, director of the Center for Brain Health at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, pointed out that the research shows that these amyloid deposits can show up in the brain within hours of a blow to the head. "The damage is immediate, and now we have a way of seeing it," de Leon said.

Previous studies have shown a connection between head injuries and increased odds of memory decline later in life, but according to Menon it's not clear the head injury is the cause of the memory decline.

"Patients can be imaged with PET to detect early amyloid deposition, and then followed up to see whether this early amyloid deposition resolves, whether it recurs, and how these processes relate to later cognitive [mental] decline," Menon said.

To learn more:
- see the study in JAMA Neurology
- read the article in HealthDay News