Spit test for concussion may ID prolonged symptoms in children

Imaging professionals are well aware of the effects of concussion, from long-term damage to professional football players to kids playing water polo. Recent research in JAMA Pediatrics examined how changes in epigenetic molecules known as microRNAs (miRNAs) can be monitored via children’s saliva to detect prolonged concussion symptoms.

The prospective cohort study, led by Jeremiah Johnson, MA, department of pediatrics with Penn State College of Medicine, in Hersey, featured 52 patients between 7 and 21 years old who had been diagnosed with a concussion.

Currently without an easily administered test for identifying prolonged concussion symptoms (PCS), physicians are limited in detecting non-acute impacts of brain injuries. MiRNAs influence protein activities in the body, and they can be measured in biofluids including saliva, according to the authors. These molecules are ideal biomarkers because of their abundance and stability, according the authors.

“This investigation identified 15 salivary miRNAs associated with PCS and functionally associated with neuronal regulation,” Johnson et al. wrote. “Five of these miRNAs accurately identified PCS status, and three were associated with specific concussion symptoms.”

Researchers were able to determine PCS status in 42 of the 50 patients by examining those five miRNAs, an accuracy rate of 85 percent. The study was limited in its reliance on a derivation cohort to assess classification accuracy, with the researchers calling for a larger study to discern the predictive power of miRNAs.

Still, the results point to a potential tool in assessing children with brain injuries.

“Salivary miRNA measurement may provide an accurate, noninvasive technique for identifying children with PCS,” researchers wrote. “Such information could reduce parental anxiety and improve care for patients by providing a simple tool for concussion management.”