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Traumatic and Environmental Brain Disorders Research

Physical brain trauma due to violence and automobile accidents, as well as environmental insults from heavy metals are relatively common causes of childhood neurodevelopmental disabilities, such as ADHD, learning disabilities, epilepsy, intellectual disabilities and cerebral palsy. The Institute has a substantial research program aimed at preventing these brain disorders, as well as understanding their molecular mechanisms in order to develop better remedial interventions. Basic neuroscience research in this area focuses on changes in synaptic plasticity and gene expression induced by trauma and neurotoxins.

Acute trauma causes the ubiquitous neurotransmitter excitatory glutamate to be released into the brain's extracellular space where it can accumulate and damage nearby neurons. The mechanisms for this injury are being investigated in experimental models in the laboratory and in children with acute head injury through a collaboration with the Johns Hopkins Hospital Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Follow up studies of children after severe head injury using advanced brain imaging techniques are identifying focal areas of injury that cause long term behavioral and cognitive disabilities.

The mechanisms for the effect of these toxins on the developing brain are being examined in experimental laboratory models. Recent discoveries have identified mechanisms for effects of severe poisoning, such as brain swelling, as well as for more subtle but enduring effects on intelligence.