New research from Children’s National Hospital demonstrates that circadian rhythms regulate a specific type of self-renewing brain cell, providing significant insight into how the body’s internal clock may aid in healing after traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
The results, which were published in the latest issue of eNeuro, open up new avenues of research for potential TBI treatments.
At the moment, the only ways to treat these injuries are with supportive care and rehabilitation, not with targeted drug treatments.
These results further highlight the significance of addressing circadian disruptions in the treatment of brain injuries.
The circadian clock is a genetic 24-hour cycle that controls many cellular processes in the body.
The research team at Children’s National found that NG2-glia, also known as oligodendrocyte precursor cells, also follow a circadian rhythm.
This cell type self-renews throughout adulthood and is proliferative following brain damage.
“We have found evidence for the role of this well-known molecular pathway – the molecular circadian clock – in regulating the ability for these NG2-glia to proliferate, both at rest and after injury,” says Terry Dean, M.D., Ph.D., critical care specialist at Children’s National and the lead author of the paper. “This will serve as a starting point to further investigate the pathways to controlling cellular regeneration and optimize recovery after injury.”
TBI, which is sometimes referred to as “the silent epidemic,” affects an estimated 69 million people annually in the world, with injuries ranging from minor concussions to severe ones that can be fatal or result in permanent disability.
TBI affects about 2.8 million people annually in the US alone, including 630,000 children.
TBI is the top killer of people under the age of 45, and those who do survive frequently have long-lasting physical, cognitive, and psychosocial impairments.
However, there are currently no available targeted treatments for TBI, making it important to identify the mechanisms that could enable the regeneration of these NG2-glia cells—the most prevalent kind of brain cell known to proliferate and self-renew in adult brains.
“It is essential for researchers to know that cell renewal is coordinated with the time of day,” adds Vittorio Gallo, Ph.D., interim chief academic officer and interim director of the Children’s National Research Institute. “With this knowledge, we can dig deeper into the body’s genetic healing process to understand how cells regulate and regenerate themselves.”
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