Marquitta Smith, Thuvan Piehler, Richard Benjamin, Karen L. Farizatto, Morgan C. Pait, Michael F. Almeida, Vladimir V. Ghukasyan, Ben A. Bahr
Explosives create shockwaves that cause blast-induced neurotrauma, one of the most common types of traumatic brain injury (TBI) linked to military service. Blast-induced TBIs are often associated with reduced cognitive and behavioral functions due to a variety of factors. To study the direct effects of military explosive blasts on brain tissue, we removed systemic factors by utilizing rat hippocampal slice cultures. The long-term slice cultures were briefly sealed air-tight in serum-free medium, lowered into a 37 °C water-filled tank, and small 1.7-gram assemblies of cyclotrimethylene trinitramine (RDX) were detonated 15 cm outside the tank, creating a distinct shockwave recorded at the culture plate position. Compared to control mock-treated groups of slices that received equal submerge time, 1–3 blast impacts caused a dose-dependent reduction in the AMPA receptor subunit GluR1. While only a small reduction was found in hippocampal slices exposed to a single RDX blast and harvested 1–2 days later, slices that received two consecutive RDX blasts 4 min apart exhibited a 26–40% reduction in GluR1, and the receptor subunit was further reduced by 64–72% after three consecutive blasts. Such loss correlated with increased levels of HDAC2, a histone deacetylase implicated in stress-induced reduction of glutamatergic transmission. No evidence of synaptic marker recovery was found at 72 h post-blast. The presynaptic marker synaptophysin was found to have similar susceptibility as GluR1 to the multiple explosive detonations. In contrast to the synaptic protein reductions, actin levels were unchanged, spectrin breakdown was not detected, and Fluoro-Jade B staining found no indication of degenerating neurons in slices exposed to three RDX blasts, suggesting that small, sub-lethal explosives are capable of producing selective alterations to synaptic integrity. Together, these results indicate that blast waves from military explosive cause signs of synaptic compromise without producing severe neurodegeneration, perhaps explaining the cognitive and behavioral changes in those blast-induced TBI sufferers that have no detectable neuropathology.