A remarkable recent experiment allowed scientists to see inside the skull and brain of animals that had just experienced a concussion, providing sobering new evidence of how damaging even minor brain impacts can be. While the results, which were published in Nature, are worrisome, they also hint at the possibility of treating concussions and lessening their harm.
Concussions occur when the brain bounces against the skull after someone’s head is bumped or jolted. Such injuries are fairly common in contact sports, like football and hockey, and there is growing concern that repeated concussions might contribute to lingering problems with thinking or memory. This concern was heightened this week by reports that the brain of the late major league baseball player Ryan Freel showed symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative condition. He reportedly had been hit in the head multiple times during his career.
But scientists did not know exactly what happens at a molecular level inside the brain during and after a concussion. The living brain is notoriously difficult to study, since it shelters behind the thick, bony skull and other protective barriers. In some earlier studies, scientists had removed portions of lab animals’ skulls to view what happened to their brains during subsequent impacts. But removing part of the skull causes its own tissue damage and physiological response, muddying any findings about how the brain is...
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