AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 29, Number 2, 2020


Women May be More Vulnerable to Concussions Because of “Leaner” Nerve Fibers, Penn Study Suggests

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“Train tracks” of female axons were more likely to break from a simulated brain injury than male axons


Women have smaller, more breakable nerve fibers in the brain compared to men that may make them more susceptible to concussions, suggests a new study from Penn Medicine neuroscientists.

In a series of laboratory tests using rat and human neuronal cells, the research team, led by Douglas H. Smith, MD, director of the Penn Center for Brain Injury and Repair and the Robert A. Groff Professor of Neurosurgery at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, found that female axons were smaller and had fewer microtubules – “train tracks” that transport molecules up and down the axons – that were more likely to break after applying the same amount of force from a simulated traumatic brain injury.

That breaking is what researchers believe may lead to symptoms associated with concussions, such as dizziness or loss of consciousness. The susceptibility may also help explain why female athletes have an increased risk of concussions and worse outcomes than male athletes, as previous studies have shown.

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