Newswise — Bethesda, MD-Scientists at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences have discovered a panel of small biological molecules called microRNAs, which can be utilized to diagnose mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), according to a study released in PLOS ONE, "Identification of Serum MicroRNA Signatures for Diagnosis of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury in a Closed Head Injury Model," Nov. 7, 2014.

Mild TBI is referred to as the signature injury of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A majority of TBI sustained in combat are mTBI. Diagnosis of mTBI currently is difficult because of lack of reliable diagnostic technology and apparent symptoms can be similar to effects of other psychiatric disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Clinicians today use patients’ self-report and expensive brain imaging to detect mTBI. However, no reliable diagnostic biological assays exist for mTBI and, as a result, cases are often missed or misdiagnosed.

MicroRNAs have recently gained a lot of attention for their utility in blood based diagnosis in many diseases. Dr. Radha K. Maheshwari, professor of Pathology at the military’s Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, along with his team including Dr. Anuj Sharma, Mr. Raghavendar Chandran, Ms. Erin S Barry, Dr. Manish Bhomia, Dr. Mary Anne Hutchison, Dr. Nagaraja S. Balakathiresan, and Dr. Neil E Grunberg, examined the changes in blood microRNAs in response to various intensities of brain injury resulting in mTBI. These scientists identified a unique and specific group of microRNAs which were detected in blood immediately after the injury to the brain. These results suggest that the microRNAs can be measured in the blood as proxies for mTBI. The microRNA panel identified in this study is unique and does not overlap with blood microRNAs of post-traumatic stress disorder, as reported in a study by Maheshwari and his team published earlier this year in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.

“This important finding is a step forward in identifying objective biomarkers for mTBI that may be further validated to accurately and cost-effectively identify mTBI in service members and civilians with brain injuries. Our current effort is to identify the precise role these microRNAs play in mTBI which may help in development of mTBI therapies” Dr. Maheshwari added.

These studies were supported by funding from the Defense Medical Research and Development Program whose primary mission is to advance medical research and development for wounded warriors. --- The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU), founded by an act of Congress in 1972, is the academic heart of the Military Health System. USU students are primarily active duty uniformed officers in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Public Health Service who receive specialized education in tropical and infectious diseases, TBI and PTSD, disaster response and humanitarian assistance, global health, and acute trauma care. A large percentage of the university’s more than 5,200 physician and 790 advanced practice nursing alumni are supporting operations around the world, offering their leadership and expertise. USU also has graduate programs in biomedical sciences and public health committed to excellence in research, and in oral biology. The University's research program covers a wide range of clinical and basic science important to both the military and public health. For more information, visit

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PLOS One, Nov. 7, 2014