Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

DVBIC blood plasma study assists in TBI and PTSD diagnosis

Air Force Senior Airman Kristen N. Kelsey, a medical laboratory technician with the 514th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Air Force Reserve Command, labels blood samples at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mark Olsen) Air Force Senior Airman Kristen N. Kelsey, a medical laboratory technician with the 514th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, Air Force Reserve Command, labels blood samples at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mark Olsen)

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury | Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence

For many years, researchers have looked for objective measures to help diagnose traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorders.

Information from the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center’s 15-year natural history study is assisting medical researchers in determining whether a protein found in a patient’s blood could be a promising candidate for future diagnostic tools.

A blow to the head is one of the ways a service members can sustain a TBI, and after witnessing psychologically disturbing events, they may also experience PTSD. Diagnosing these can be complex as they have similar symptoms that can be compounded when both are present.

Since 2000, more than 400,000 active-duty service members have been diagnosed with TBI, according to figures from DVBIC, the Department Department’s center of excellence for traumatic brain injury and a division of the Defense Health Agency Research and Development Directorate. However, a statistic revealing those co-presenting with PTSD has not been compiled.

In a 2018 research review on mild TBI (mTBI) and PTSD, the DVBIC noted that “differential diagnosis will likely continue to be a challenge.”

Jessica Gill, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health, and Dr. Kimbra Kenney, an associate professor of neurology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, both located in Bethesda, Maryland, are currently examining patients’ blood to see whether it can help in diagnosing and treating TBI.

“By pairing advances in the laboratory we are now able to detect very small proteins in the blood that provide key insights into pathology that contribute to long-term symptoms in military personnel and veterans with TBIs, as well with PTSDs,” said Gill.

At a recent conference, Kenney explained how specific types of blood proteins were significantly elevated among those with concussions, compared to subjects who had been deployed but not sustained TBIs. Blood samples are being collected at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center as part of their research in a study of the natural history of TBI funded by the DoD and Department of Veterans Affairs.

In another project using data from the 15-year natural history study, researchers are examining blood proteins in subjects who had both sustained a TBI and reported PTSD symptoms. Earlier studies had shown that tau and amyloid-beta-42 proteins indicated the presence of TBI; now researchers believe the presence of both proteins could reveal individuals with both TBI and PTSD.

Study participants consisted of 107 service members. Evidence of TBI was obtained from medical records and interviews at Walter Reed Bethesda. Most participants were diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury while the remaining subjects experienced an injury unrelated to TBI but did not lose consciousness. Each participant provided a blood sample and completed a detailed questionnaire. Three groups were formed: those with both TBI and PTSD; those with some other injury and no PTSD; and those with TBI but no PTSD.

The researchers found “tau in plasma is significantly elevated in military personnel who have sustained an mTBI and display concurrent PTSD symptomology.” This finding agrees with earlier civilian studies. Following a TBI, tau elevations are associated with poor recoveries and greater neurological problems.

These studies may show relationships between neurological outcomes and changes at the molecular level. “The novel design of the 15-year study provides the first longitudinal data to untangle complex pathological processes that result in lasting neurological and psychological symptoms and impairments,” Gill said. “By better understanding these processes, we can personalize the care we provide to treat military personnel and veterans to have the biggest impact on their health and well-being.”


You also may be interested in...

TBI Caregiver Support Forms

Form/Template
6/29/2021

This is a fillable and printer-friendly version of the forms available in the "Traumatic Brain Injury: A Guide for Caregivers of Service Members and Veterans."

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury | Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence | Patient and Family Resources

Patient Global Impression Change Scale

Form/Template
5/1/2015

Form filled out by patients to rate their changes in activity, symptoms, emotions and quality of life.

Recommended Content:

Conditions and Treatments | Health Readiness | Physical Disability | Traumatic Brain Injury

Neurobehavioral Symptom Inventory Form

Form/Template
4/30/2015

Form used by providers to question patients about their symptoms

Recommended Content:

Conditions and Treatments | Physical Disability | Traumatic Brain Injury | Health Readiness

Military Acute Concussion Evaluation 2012

Form/Template
4/30/2015

Use this form to screen for concussions

Recommended Content:

Conditions and Treatments | Physical Disability | Traumatic Brain Injury | Health Readiness

Neuroimaging following TBI in non deployed setting

Form/Template
7/8/2013

The guidance contained in this CR represents a review of currently published literature and expert contributions obtained by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) in collaboration with clinical subject matter experts representing the Services, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), academic, research and civilian sectors.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Conditions and Treatments | Physical Disability | Traumatic Brain Injury

DCoE Concussion Management Algorithm Cards

Form/Template
10/8/2012

Combat Medic/Corpsman Algorithm Card to diagnose a concussion in a deployed setting

Recommended Content:

Conditions and Treatments | Physical Disability | Traumatic Brain Injury | Health Readiness
Showing results 1 - 6 Page 1 of 1

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.