Polypathology and dementia after brain trauma: Does brain injury trigger distinct neurodegenerative diseases, or should they be classified together as traumatic encephalopathy?

  • Washington P
  • Villapol S
  • Burns M
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Neuropathological studies of human traumatic brain injury (TBI) cases have described amyloid plaques acutely after a single severe TBI, and tau pathology after repeat mild TBI (mTBI). This has helped drive the hypothesis that a single moderate to severe TBI increases the risk of developing late-onset Alzheimer's disease (AD), while repeat mTBI increases the risk of developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). In this review we critically assess this position-examining epidemiological and case control human studies, neuropathological evidence, and preclinical data.Epidemiological studies emphasize that TBI is associated with the increased risk of developing multiple types of dementia, not just AD-type dementia, and that TBI can also trigger other neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson's disease. Further, human post-mortem studies on both single TBI and repeat mTBI can show combinations of amyloid, tau, TDP-43, and Lewy body pathology indicating that the neuropathology of TBI is best described as a 'polypathology'. Preclinical studies confirm that multiple proteins associated with the development of neurodegenerative disease accumulate in the brain after TBI.The chronic sequelae of both single TBI and repeat mTBI share common neuropathological features and clinical symptoms of classically defined neurodegenerative disorders. However, while the spectrum of chronic cognitive and neurobehavioral disorders that occur following repeat mTBI is viewed as the symptoms of CTE, the spectrum of chronic cognitive and neurobehavioral symptoms that occur after a single TBI is considered to represent distinct neurodegenerative diseases such as AD. These data support the suggestion that the multiple manifestations of TBI-induced neurodegenerative disorders be classified together as traumatic encephalopathy or trauma-induced neurodegeneration, regardless of the nature or frequency of the precipitating TBI.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Alzheimer's disease (AD)
  • Amyloid (Aβ)
  • Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)
  • Dementia
  • Tau
  • Tauopathy
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)

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  • Patricia M. Washington

  • Sonia Villapol

  • Mark P. Burns

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