November 28, 2011

Toll-Like Receptors Linked to Brain Injuries in Newborns

by Levin & Perconti

Last week Medical News reported on new research conducted by birth injury researchers that shed further light on how brain injuries develop in young infants. As our Chicago birth injury lawyers have frequently described on this blog, there remains a lot of mystery around certain parts of the child development process. That lack of understanding at times makes it difficult for medical providers to prevent certain defects from arising. The more information that is obtained about the development process—and the injury risks—the better off all community members will be.

This latest research was conducted by Swedish researchers at the University of Gothenburg and examined mechanisms related to brain injuries in infants. Roughly two out of every one thousand births result in a brain injury to the young child. The research is being heralded as an important step that identifies the mechanisms involved in infant brain injuries which ultimately may lead to better treatment for the young victims. Blood infections and reduced blood and oxygen supplies are a common cause of the harm, as they can lead to brain inflammation. Premature infants are particularly prone to the harm, which can ultimately result in a wide range of problems, from cerebral palsy and epilepsy to learning difficulties.

The latest development suggests that “toll-like receptors” (TLRs) in the young brain in the innate immune system play a crucial role in brain development. TLRs are a class of proteins which are single, non-catalytic receptors that recognize certain molecules derived from microbes. TLRs are a growing research area, with pioneers in the area recently winning a Nobel Prize in Physiology. They have previously been found to be involved in stroke-related brain adult brain damage. This latest research expands on the knowledge and has found that TLRs are also crucial in immature brains.

In this latest research into infant brain injuries, the researchers used mice to simulate newborn brain injuries. We have previously posted on the use of mice in different context as a stand-in when studying infant injuries. Researchers in this case, found that TLRs are crucial to the damage that results from hypoxia—or lack of oxygen to the brain. The lead researcher explained that “an infection can activate these receptors, making the brain more sensitive to hypoxia, resulting in worse brain damage.” Therefore, it would seem that blocking these signals would go a long way to reducing the brain damage. Currently, medical professionals can do little to stop the harm the results from this oxygen deprivation. Hopefully further research in this area will change all of that. That is why it is so crucial for medical professionals not to allow the oxygen deprivation to occur in the first place.

The research which identified the role that TLRs play in infant brain injuries also included examination of the role of a protein known as occludin. The protein plays a role in the ‘gluing’ of cells together in the blood-brain barrier. The researchers found that following a brain infection there is a reduction in occludin levels. Therefore, the blood brain barrier is weaker, potentially resulting in an opening in the barrier. That opening may make it easier for inflammatory molecules to enter the brain and cause dangerous inflammation.

See Our Related Blog Posts:

Birth Accident Lawsuit Reveals Extreme Emotional Pain Associated with Loss

Birth Injury Lawsuit Filed After Child Born with Cerebral Palsy