Innate immune activation has been attributed a key role in traumatic brain injury (TBI) and successive morbidity. In mild TBI (mTBI), however, the extent and persistence of innate immune activation are unknown. We determined plasma cytokine level changes over 12 months after an mTBI in hospitalized and non-hospitalized patients compared with community controls; and examined their associations to injury-related and demographic variables at admission. Prospectively, 207 patients presenting to the emergency department (ED) or general practitioner with clinically confirmed mTBI and 82 matched community controls were included. Plasma samples were obtained at admission, after 2 weeks, 3 months, and 12 months. Cytokine levels were analysed with a 27-plex beads-based immunoassay. Brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was performed on all participants. Twelve cytokines were reliably detected. Plasma levels of interferon gamma (IFN-γ), interleukin 8 (IL-8), eotaxin, macrophage inflammatory protein-1-beta (MIP-1β), monocyte chemoattractant protein 1 (MCP-1), IL-17A, IL-9, tumor necrosis factor (TNF), and basic fibroblast growth factor (FGF-basic) were significantly increased at all time-points in patients compared with controls, whereas IFN-γ-inducing protein 10 (IP-10), platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF), and IL-1ra were not. IL-17A and FGF-basic showed significant increases in patients from admission to follow-up at 3 months, and remained increased at 12 months compared with admission. Interestingly, MRI findings were negatively associated with four cytokines: eotaxin, MIP-1β, IL-9, and IP-10, whereas age was positively associated with nine cytokines: IL-8, eotaxin, MIP-1β, MCP-1, IL-17A, IL-9, TNF, FGF-basic, and IL-1ra. TNF was also increased in those with presence of other injuries. In conclusion, mTBI activated the innate immune system consistently and this is the first study to show that several inflammatory cytokines remain increased for up to 1 year post-injury.
Keywords: concussion; cytokines; growth factors; immune system; pathophysiology.