The problem of axonal injury in the brains of veterans with histories of blast exposure

Jiwon Ryu, Iren Horkayne-Szakaly, Leyan Xu, Olga Pletnikova, Francesco Leri, Charles Eberhart, Juan C. Troncoso, Vassilis E. Koliatsos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Introduction: Blast injury to brain, a hundred-year old problem with poorly characterized neuropathology, has resurfaced as health concern in recent deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. To characterize the neuropathology of blast injury, we examined the brains of veterans for the presence of amyloid precursor protein (APP)-positive axonal swellings typical of diffuse axonal injury (DAI) and compared them to healthy controls as well as controls with opiate overdose, anoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, and non-blast TBI (falls and motor vehicle crashes). Results: In cases with blast history, we found APP (+) axonal abnormalities in several brain sites, especially the medial dorsal frontal white matter. In white matter, these abnormalities were featured primarily by clusters of axonal spheroids or varicosities in a honeycomb pattern with perivascular distribution. Axonal abnormalities colocalized with IBA1 (+) reactive microglia and had an appearance that was distinct from classical DAI encountered in TBI due to motor vehicle crashes. Opiate overdose cases also showed APP (+) axonal abnormalities, but the intensity of these lesions was lower compared to cases with blast histories and there was no clear association of such lesions with microglial activation. Conclusions: Our findings demonstrate that many cases with history of blast exposure are featured by APP (+) axonopathy that may be related to blast exposure, but an important role for opiate overdose, antemortem anoxia, and concurrent blunt TBI events in war theater or elsewhere cannot be discounted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number153
JournalActa Neuropathologica Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 27 2014


  • APP
  • Axon bulbs
  • Diffuse axonal injury
  • Microglia
  • Opiate
  • Traumatic brain injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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