I have to admit, writing about the traumatic / PTSD aspects of TBI has got me a little bummed out. Additionally, thinking about CTE and the NFL players’ suit(s) against the NFL, and pondering the shortened anticipated lifespan of TBI survivors, hasn’t helped my mood at all.
No surprises there.
I did happen upon something interesting today, however — and it both appears to confirm what I have suspected, as well as adds a little more information to my “store”. It also lit a fire under me with regards to my exercise routine.
Check out this recently published paper from Brain – A Journal of Neurology:
Okay, now that I’ve got your attention 😉 what does it mean? Basically, autophagy is the process by which cells digest parts of themselves by breaking down the bits they don’t need or are trying to get rid of, and using them as “food” for other processes. A good example of autophagy is dieting — where your body consumes the fat in some places to fuel its activities. It sounds a bit strange and creepy at first look, but when you think about it, it makes perfect sense — if there’s energy or some other ingredient that’s taking up space in a cell, and it can be used for other purposes, such as energy, then it only makes sense for the cell to break it down and use it up for something else. Our cells do this all the time – and in the case of trying to lose weight, that’s exactly what we want them to do.
Since this breaking-down function is available in cells that want to get rid of extra “baggage” — and tau, the protein which is linked to CTE and other dementia-like brain degeneration like Alzheimers is definitely extra baggage that isn’t doing anyone any good, then wouldn’t it make sense for this breaking down process to be useful when it comes to clearing out tau from brain cells? Apparently, yes. Here’s the summary from the article I found (bold emphasis is mine):
The accumulation of insoluble proteins is a pathological hallmark of several neurodegenerative disorders. Tauopathies are caused by the dysfunction and aggregation of tau protein and an impairment of cellular protein degradation pathways may contribute to their pathogenesis. Thus, a deficiency in autophagy can cause neurodegeneration, while activation of autophagy is protective against some proteinopathies. Little is known about the role of autophagy in animal models of human tauopathy. In the present report, we assessed the effects of autophagy stimulation by trehalose in a transgenic mouse model of tauopathy, the human mutant P301S tau mouse, using biochemical and immunohistochemical analyses. Neuronal survival was evaluated by stereology. Autophagy was activated in the brain, where the number of neurons containing tau inclusions was significantly reduced, as was the amount of insoluble tau protein. This reduction in tau aggregates was associated with improved neuronal survival in the cerebral cortex and the brainstem. We also observed a decrease of p62 protein, suggesting that it may contribute to the removal of tau inclusions. Trehalose failed to activate autophagy in the spinal cord, where it had no impact on the level of sarkosyl-insoluble tau. Accordingly, trehalose had no effect on the motor impairment of human mutant P301S tau transgenic mice. Our findings provide direct evidence in favour of the degradation of tau aggregates by autophagy. Activation of autophagy may be worth investigating in the context of therapies for human tauopathies.
So, yeah – you’ve got extra proteins gunking up your brain cells after a traumatic brain injury/concussion, and that extra protein isn’t doing anyone any good. Wouldn’t it make sense to use the cells’ own activity of breaking down portions of themselves and flushing them out, to help clear out the tau?
In the study, they used trehalose to stimulate the process in mice, which may or may not be all that useful for my purposes. Trehalose is used in processing a lot of foods, and it’s not uncommon. I’m not sure how therapeutic it would be for me to consume mass quantities of “confectionery, bread, vegetables side dishes, animal-derived deli foods, pouch-packed foods, frozen foods, and beverages, as well as foods for lunches, eating out, or prepared at home,” especially if my body has its own natural processes to move things along. What natural processes, you ask? Exercise. Acute exercise. Researchers have found that acute exercise stimulates autophagy in the skeletons and muscles of mice, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to deduce that it can have the same effects on cells of the brain.
Why not? Okay, I’m probably being markedly unscientific here by drawing conclusions from reading a few articles (scholarly as they may be), but let’s use common sense for a moment. The human body is constantly renewing itself — every 7 years, we get a new body, because the cells have all renewed themselves. If acute exercise is worked into the routine on a regular basis, then wouldn’t it make sense that the autophagy induced by exercise would help the body rebuild itself with new materials, and with less tau?
As a TBI survivor who has a nagging concern about tau-induced dementia later in life, this gives me hope. And while “hope is not a strategy” and my scientific method leaves a lot to be desired, nonetheless, it does help me get past the pernicious, creeping depression that sets in sometimes when I get tired and start to think, “After all those TBIs, what’s the use?”
So, I’m throwing myself a bone, here, and I’m gnawing on it with all my might. I have known for several years, now, that exercise makes me feel and think better when I do it first thing in the morning. And I’ve known for decades that a good hard workout makes me feel like a new person. Researchers seem to be confirming scientifically what I have experienced, and they’re explaining it in ways that make sense to me and my systems-oriented conceptual brain (all the biochemical-speak notwithstanding).
So rather than getting hung up on the idea that I’ve gotten clunked in the head too many times, and that’s that, I’m going to amp up my exercise and really push myself to do more with it. It’s the acute stuff that apparently helps the most, so I need to do more of that. Not to the point of injuring myself, but definitely more than the easy-peasy warmups I’ve fallen into doing over the past six months or so.
Screw despair. I’m going outside to get some serious exercise.