A new University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) study had found that head injuries can alter “master genes” in the brain that control hundreds of other genes, which could lead to the development of serious brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

The UCLA researchers found that an injury to the brain that damages master genes can cause those genes to change in two ways: (1) the injured genes could produce irregular forms of proteins; or (2) injured genes can change the number of expressed copies of a gene in each cell.

Both of these changes would prevent a gene from working properly and increase the risk of neurological and psychiatric disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, schizophrenia, depression, stroke, and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

This discovery was made by studying the effects of concussion in rats. Researchers trained 20 rats to navigate a maze and then used a fluid to induce a concussion in half the rats. The rats that suffered a concussion took 25% longer to navigate the maze than the rats with no concussion.

Researchers then analyzed RNA from the rats’ hippocampus -- the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory -- as well as the rats’ white blood cells. They found that the rats with brain injuries had a group of 268 genes in their hippocampus that were altered as well as 1,215 genes in their white blood cells that were altered.

“We believe these master genes are responsible for traumatic brain injury adversely triggering changes in many other genes,” said Xia Yang, a senior author of the study and a UCLA associate professor of integrative biology and physiology.

More than 100 of the genes that changed following the brain injury have counterparts in humans that have been linked to neurological and psychiatric disorders, according to the study.

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