Featuring the work of CURE PTE Initiative members Dr. Oleskii Shandra and Dr. Stefanie Robel
Focal traumatic brain injury (TBI) induces astrogliosis, a process essential to protecting uninjured brain areas from secondary damage. However, astrogliosis can cause loss of astrocyte homeostatic functions and possibly contributes to comorbidities such as posttraumatic epilepsy (PTE).
Scar-forming astrocytes seal focal injuries off from healthy brain tissue. It is these glial scars that are associated with epilepsy originating in the cerebral cortex and hippocampus. However, the vast majority of human TBIs also present with diffuse brain injury caused by acceleration-deceleration forces leading to tissue shearing. The resulting diffuse tissue damage may be intrinsically different from focal lesions that would trigger glial scar formation.
This study used mice of both sexes in a model of repetitive mild/concussive closed-head TBI, which only induced diffuse injury, to test the hypothesis that astrocytes respond uniquely to diffuse TBI and that diffuse TBI is sufficient to cause PTE. Astrocytes did not form scars and classic astrogliosis characterized by upregulation of glial fibrillary acidic protein was limited. Surprisingly, an unrelated population of atypical reactive astrocytes was characterized by the lack of glial fibrillary acidic protein expression, rapid and sustained downregulation of homeostatic proteins and impaired astrocyte coupling.
After a latency period, a subset of mice developed spontaneous recurrent seizures reminiscent of PTE in human TBI patients. Seizing mice had larger areas of atypical astrocytes compared with nonseizing mice, suggesting that these atypical astrocytes might contribute to epileptogenesis after diffuse TBI.