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From PsychCentral:
Traumatic brain injuries are known to trigger a variety of symptoms ranging from a simple headache to permanent memory and thinking problems. Now scientists at UCLA have discovered that a traumatic brain injury can result in the loss of a specific type of neuron, elevating the risk for Parkinson’s disease as well.

During a preclinical study, scientists found that a moderate traumatic brain injury in rats caused an initial 15 percent loss in nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons, and that these brain cells continued to decline after the injury, leading to a 30 percent loss 26 weeks later.

A lack in these specific neurons can result in the cardinal motor problems found in Parkinson’s patients, including akinesia (problems with movement), postural tremor and rigidity. Furthermore, when combined with the pesticide paraquat — a second known risk factor for Parkinson’s — the loss of dopaminergic neurons climbed to 30 percent at a much faster rate.

Although traumatic brain injury was already known as a risk factor for Parkinson’s, scientists didn’t know exactly why. Nor was it known whether traumatic brain injury worked synergistically with pesticides such as paraquat, one of the world’s most commonly used herbicides, known to be toxic to human beings and animals and also linked to Parkinson’s.

Nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons play a role in the production of dopamine, which is involved in the regulation of movement, among other things. The current research suggests that while a traumatic brain injury does not cause Parkinson’s, it can make individuals more susceptible to the disorder, said Chesselet.

“We found that with a moderate traumatic brain injury, the loss of neurons was too small in number to cause Parkinson’s disease, but it is enough to increase the risk of PD,” she said. “By decreasing the number of dopaminergic neurons, any further insult to the brain will be attacking a smaller number of neurons; as a result, the threshold for symptoms would be reached faster.”

Chesselet noted, “shortly after a traumatic brain injury, these neurons are more vulnerable to a second insult.”

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