A team of scientists from Penn State College of Medicine and SUNY Upstate Medical University announce they have discovered a biomarker in saliva that they suggest could identify concussion in children and predict its length of recovery.

The team has zeroed in on small non-coding nucleic acid molecules in the body called microRNA, which they say can have an effect on gene expression and make them attractive biomarker candidates.

“Given the robust, stable expression of microRNA in saliva and its ease of collection in pediatric patients, [we] sought to explore the utility of salivary microRNA as a diagnostic tool in children and adolescents with traumatic brain injury,” says Steven Hicks, MD, PhD, FAAP, assistant professor in pediatrics, Penn State Hershey Medical Center and lead author of the study, in a media release from Quadrant Biosciences Inc, supporter of the study.

“We identified microRNA changes that occur in cerebrospinal fluid following severe head injury and then investigated whether those same microRNAs were changed in saliva of 60 children with mild head injury,” explains collaborator Frank Middleton, PhD, associate professor of Neuroscience and Physiology/Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at SUNY Upstate Medical University, in the release.

“Six miRNAs had parallel changes in CSF and saliva and could accurately separate concussion and control cases. One of these microRNAs targeted genes involved in neuron formation and was correlated with parental and child reports of attention difficulty following concussion,” he adds.

Follow-up research from the team suggests that microDNA appears to be an accurate predictor of the length of recovery from concussion.

The follow-up included 52 children between the ages of 7 and 21 years with mild traumatic brain injury. The researchers collected their microRNA and evaluated them using the Sports Concussion Assessment Tool (SCAT-3) parent and child surveys. SCAT-3 results showed that the 30 children with prolonged concussion symptoms had higher scores for headaches, fatigue, and difficulties concentrating.

“One of the other exciting things to come out of this research is that the microRNAs in saliva correctly predicted whether concussion symptoms would remain present for at least a month nearly 90 percent of the time,” Hicks states.

“Moreover, we found that salivary microRNA levels were significantly more effective than evaluations using the SCAT-3 survey in predicting which children would continue to experience headaches, fatigue, concentration difficulties, and other concussion symptoms that lasted longer than 4 weeks.

[Source(s): Quadrant Biosciences Inc, PR Newswire]