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Pathologists identify signature brain injury of ‘shell shock’

The brains of some Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans who survived blasts from (IEDs) and died later of other causes show a distinctive honeycomb pattern of broken and swollen nerve fibers throughout critical brain regions, including those that control executive function. The pattern is different from caused by car crashes, drug overdoses or collision sports, and may be the never-before-reported signature of blast injuries suffered by soldiers as far back as World War I.

Brain Cells Reveal Different Types of Traumatic Injuries
Under a microscope, brain sections from three different individuals show (left) axons with large, bulb-shaped lesions characteristic of a motor vehicle crash; (center) many smaller lesions characteristic of a blast injury; and (right) fewer lesions characteristic of an opiate overdose.
Credit:Courtesy of Vassilis Koliatsos.


This research was funded by the Johns Hopkins Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (Grant RFA AG-09-001) and gifts from the and the Sam and Sheila Geller family.

Other authors on the paper are Jiwon Ryu, Leyan Xu, Olga Pletnikova, Francesco Leri, Charles Eberhart and Juan C. Troncoso of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Iren Horkayne-Szakaly of the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

Johns Hopkins Medicine