A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine may be of interest to anyone in West Virginia who has suffered a traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury. Researchers discovered that microglia, which are certain cells that reside permanently in the central nervous system, have an important role in clearing up dead and dying cells in the brain.
In an experiment, these phagocytic cells (so called because they literally eat other cells) were found in the brains of mice with injured optic nerves. The retinal ganglion neurons had degenerated and left the brain with debris, which was being consumed by the microglia. Removing dead and dying cells is crucial because if left alone, they can become inflamed and affect neighboring neurons.
Microglia have other beneficial roles. They aid in the development of the brain by “pruning” inactive neuronal synapses, and they fight brain infections by eating away the bacteria and other pathogens. In adult brains, microglia can recognize dead or injured neurons, inactive synapses and bacteria using similar molecules.
While the study was limited to optic nerve injuries in mice, researchers believe that further research into the way that microglia are activated following a TBI or spinal cord injury will be fruitful. Ultimately, it could help limit the spread of neurodegeneration in patients.
TBIs can be hard to detect, and the extent of the damage they cause can be hard to measure. Victims could, for example, suffer from delayed brain damage. Whatever the nature of the accident, victims who were injured through no fault of their own may qualify for compensation under personal injury law. They might decide to hire a lawyer, who may, in turn, hire medical professionals to link the accident with the symptoms. The lawyer might then negotiate for a settlement covering past and future medical expenses.