Brain-related proteins as serum biomarkers of acute, subconcussive blast overpressure exposure: A cohort study of military personnel

Angela M. Boutté*, Bharani Thangavelu, Christina R. LaValle, Jeffrey Nemes, Janice Gilsdorf, Deborah A. Shear, Gary H. Kamimori

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Repeated exposure to blast overpressure remains a major cause of adverse health for military personnel who, as a consequence, are at a higher risk for neurodegenerative disease and suicide. Acute, early tracking of blast related effects holds the promise of rapid health assessment prior to onset of chronic problems. Current techniques used to determine blast-related effects rely upon reporting of symptomology similar to that of concussion and neurocognitive assessment relevant to operational decrement. Here, we describe the results of a cross sectional study with pared observations. The concentration of multiple TBI-related proteins was tested in serum collected within one hour of blast exposure as a quantitative and minimally invasive strategy to augment assessment of blast-exposure effects that are associated with concussion-like symptomology and reaction time decrements. We determined that median simple reaction time (SRT) was slowed in accordance with serum Nf-L, tau, Aβ-40, and Aβ-42 elevation after overpressure exposure. In contrast, median levels of serum GFAP decreased. Individual, inter-subject analysis revealed positive correlations between changes in Nf-L and GFAP, and in Aβ-40 compared to Aβ-42. The change in Nf-L was negatively associated with tau, Aβ-40, and Aβ-42. Participants reported experiencing headaches, dizziness and taking longer to think. Dizziness was associated with reaction time decrements, GFAP or NfL suppression, as well as Aβ peptide elevation. UCH-L1 elevation had a weak association with mTBI/concussion history. Multiplexed serum biomarker quantitation, coupled with reaction time assessment and symptomology determined before and after blast exposure, may serve as a platform for tracking adverse effects in the absence of a head wound or diagnosed concussion. We propose further evaluation of serum biomarkers, which are often associated with TBI, in the context of acute operational blast exposures.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0221036
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2019
Externally publishedYes


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