Researchers say a type of brain cell able to renew itself is regulated by circadian rhythms, giving more insight into how the body's internal clock may promote healing after traumatic brain injuries. Photo by Mitrey/Pixabay
Sept. 19 (UPI) -- An injured brain's ability to heal may hinge on the time of day, a new study suggests.
That's according to research findings that appeared Monday in the journal eNeuro. The study found that a type of brain cell able to renew itself is regulated by circadian rhythms, giving more insight into how the body's internal clock may promote healing after traumatic brain injuries.
The researchers from Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C., said they anticipate the findings will promote further scientific exploration of new ways to treat traumatic brain injuries.
Such injuries affect 2.8 million Americans annually, including 630,000 children, but are still managed only with supportive care and rehabilitation because no targeted drug treatment options are available.
The findings also underscore the importance of addressing circadian disturbances to help injured brains heal, the investigators said.
Many of the body's cells follow a 24-hour rhythm driven by their genes known as the circadian clock, and the research team found that a relatively newly discovered type of brain cell -- known as NG2-glia, or oligodendrocyte precursor cell -- also follows a circadian rhythm, a news release said.
This cell type is one of the few that continually self-renews throughout adulthood and notably generates in the first week after brain injuries, the scientists said.
"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," Dr. Terry Dean, the study's lead author and a critical care specialist at Children's National, said in the release.
Dean, an attending physician in the Division of Critical Care Medicine at Children's National Hospital, described the study as "a starting point" to investigate the mechanisms that may unlock the regeneration of NG2-glia cells: the most common type 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," Vittorio Gallo, interim chief academic officer and interim director of the Children's National Research Institute, said in the release.
"With this knowledge, we can dig deeper into the body's genetic healing process to understand how cells regulate and regenerate themselves."
The investigators underscored how widespread traumatic brain injury is. It affects roughly 69 million people worldwide each year, resulting in conditions that range from mild concussions to severe injuries that may cause death or lifelong disability.
In the United States alone, brain injury is the leading cause of death in people under age 45, and survivors may be left with persistent physical, cognitive and psychological disabilities, the researchers said.