Friday, February 13, 2009

Detecting Abusive Head Trauma: Something Fishy Here

Speaking of perspectives, there no lack of ways to ponder this interesting story from the NY Times.  Who would have thunk that salmon suffer TBI?  Or that it's been studied for years?  Or that there are available blood markers for TBI?  Link to study
Detecting Brain Injuries in Salmon From Hydroelectric Dams
By HENRY FOUNTAIN - Published: February 13, 2009

The journey of an adult salmon upstream on its way to spawn is not an easy one, but the downstream swim for the juvenile fish is no picnic, either. On rivers with flood-control and hydroelectric dams, like many in the Pacific Northwest, the young salmon are buffeted, subject to sharp pressure changes and otherwise knocked around as they pass through spillways, tunnels and power-generating turbines.

Scientists have been studying the effects of this rough treatment for years, with the goal of designing dam structures and equipment that go easier on the fish. To detect the forces at work, they have used dummy fish containing accelerometers and other devices and have even embedded sensors in live fish.

Now they have a new tool. Ann Miracle, a researcher at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., and colleagues have shown that it’s possible to directly detect brain injury in salmon.

Dr. Miracle said that the work grew out of a discussion with Nancy D. Denslow of the University of Florida, who told her about efforts to quickly detect traumatic brain injury in soldiers by testing for the presence of breakdown products of a protein found in cell membranes. When a cell is damaged, enzymes are released that break this protein into smaller compounds.

“It struck me that using a physical injury biomarker could be very useful,” Dr. Miracle said, but first she had to determine that the same cell-membrane protein and breakdown products occur in salmon. Once that was confirmed, she and her colleagues tested the method on brain tissue from juvenile Chinook salmon that had been through a dam on the Snake River.

They found that by comparing amounts of intact protein to amounts of breakdown products, an assessment of brain damage could be made. This assessment correlated well with sensor data on conditions that the fish encountered while traveling through the dam. Their findings are published in the online open-access journal PLoS One.

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