A new study has found that fruit flies can be used as model organisms to explore genetic pathways in the brain involved in injury and recovery.
Every year, some 1.7 million people in the U.S. sustain traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Given the frequency at which TBIs occur, it's surprising that not a lot is actually known about the genes and cellular pathways that have the ability to stunt the harmful effects of the injury.
To learn more about genetics related to TBIs, researchers from the San Diego State University have turned to fruit flies, using them as a TBI model to identify which genes and pathways can be tapped into to minimize damage to and repair the nervous system.
"Fruit flies actually have a very complex nervous system," said Kim Finley, co-lead author of the study, published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.
Because of this, fruit flies have been used as model systems for more than 100 years in genetic studies, most recently of which in those involving genes structured to keep the brain healthy.
Doctors and researchers have grown increasingly concerned that even mild, but repetitive, cases of brain trauma can have long-term consequences. Different symptoms can pop up for different cases and they vary in occurrence, with some appearing immediately after an injury while others can take years to manifest.
As fruit flies mature quickly, they'll allow researchers to observe long-term TBI consequences in a short amount of time. For example, consequences that may typically take 40 years for people to develop can occur in fruit flies within just two weeks.
Another benefit of using fruit flies as a TBI model is that it is reliable and inexpensive.
In the study, fruit flies emerged out of mild trauma appearing perfectly normal. However, they started to quickly show symptoms similar to what people with TBI experience. The results suggest that studying TBIs in fruit flies may help in revealing genetic and cellular factors that highlight how the brain recovers from injuries.
Some of the symptoms associated with TBIs include headaches, changes in mood and sleep problems.
Photo: Vladimer Shioshvili | Flickr