Autoimmunity and Traumatic Brain Injury


Purpose of Review

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) causes injured brain cells to release brain-specific proteins, which may trigger an autoantibody response. In this review, we will discuss how autoimmunity is triggered after TBI and summarize the identified brain antigens to which an autoimmune response has been observed as well as their clinical implications.

Recent Findings

TBI leads injured brain cells to release brain proteins, in their intact or proteolytic fragment form, into extracellular fluids and eventually into circulating blood. These brain proteins treated by the immune system as foreign antigens can evoke the systemic production of both IgM and IgG isoforms. Increasing evidence shows that in a subset of TBI patients, there are circulating autoantibodies recognizing a range of brain proteins, including glial proteins like S100B, glial fibrillary acidic protein, and peroxirerdoxin; neuroreceptors such as glutamate receipt subunits NR1; and oligodendrocyte-originated myelin basic protein.


Autoimmunity is triggered in TBI, targeting a range of brain-specific antigens in a subset of TBI patients. Such autoantibodies might be useful for biofluid-based diagnosis in order to identify patients who might benefit from immunotherapy.

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This study is supported in part by NIH R21NS085455-01 (K.K.W.), NIH 1U01 NS086090-01 (K.K.W. overall PI Geoff T. Manley-UCSF), U.S. DOD grant W81XWH-14-2-0176 (Co-POI, K.K.W., overall PI Geoff T. Manley).

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Correspondence to Zhihui Yang or Kevin K. W. Wang.

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Conflict of Interest

Kevin K.W. Wang is a shareholder with Banyan Biomarkers, Inc., and reports grants from the NIH and the US Department of Defense.

Zhihui Yang, Tian Zhu, Amenda S. Weissman, Emily Jaalouk, Disa S Rathore, Pammela Romo, Yuan Shi, and Amy K. Wagner declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

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This article is part of the Topical Collection on Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitation

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Yang, Z., Zhu, T., Weissman, A.S. et al. Autoimmunity and Traumatic Brain Injury. Curr Phys Med Rehabil Rep 5, 22–29 (2017).

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  • Autoimmunity
  • Brain injury
  • Autoantibodies
  • Biomarker