Dr. Jeremy Flint & colleagues publish in April 2017 PLoS One
Exposure to explosive blasts can produce functional debilitation in the absence of brain pathology detectable at the scale of current diagnostic imaging. Transient (ms) overpressure components of the primary blast wave are considered to be potentially damaging to the brain. Astrocytes participate in neuronal metabolic maintenance, blood-brain barrier, regulation of homeostatic environment, and tissue remodeling. Damage to astrocytes via direct physical forces has the potential to disrupt local and global functioning of neuronal tissue. Using an ex vivo brain slice model, we tested the hypothesis that viable astrocytes within the slice could be injured simply by transit of a single blast wave consisting of overpressure alone. A polymer split Hopkinson pressure bar (PSHPB) system was adapted to impart a single positive pressure transient with a comparable magnitude to those that might be present inside the head. A custom built test chamber housing the brain tissue slice incorporated revised design elements to reduce fluid space and promote transit of a uniform planar waveform. Confocal microscopy, stereology, and morphometry of glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) immunoreactivity revealed that two distinct astrocyte injury profiles were identified across a 4 hr post-test survival interval: (a) presumed conventional astrogliosis characterized by enhanced GFAP immunofluorescence intensity without significant change in tissue area fraction and (b) a process comparable to clasmatodendrosis, an autophagic degradation of distal processes that has not been previously associated with blast induced neurotrauma. Analysis of astrocyte branching revealed early, sustained, and progressive differences distinct from the effects of slice incubation absent overpressure testing. Astrocyte vulnerability to overpressure transients indicates a potential for significant involvement in brain blast pathology and emergent dysfunction. The testing platform can isolate overpressure injury phenomena to provide novel insight on physical and biological mechanisms.