Human mild traumatic brain injury decreases circulating branched-chain amino acids and their metabolite levels

J Neurotrauma. 2013 Apr 15;30(8):671-9. doi: 10.1089/neu.2012.2491. Epub 2013 Apr 6.


The pathophysiology of traumatic brain injury (TBI) is complex and not well understood. Because pathophysiology has ramifications for injury progression and outcome, we sought to identify metabolic cascades that are altered after acute human mild and severe TBI. Because catabolism of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs; i.e., valine, isoleucine, and leucine) leads to glucose and energy metabolism, and neurotransmitter synthesis and availability, we investigated BCAA metabolites in plasma samples collected within 24 h of injury from mild TBI (Glasgow Coma Scale [GCS] score >12), severe TBI (GCS ≤8), orthopedic injury, and healthy volunteers. We report decreased levels of all three BCAAs in patients with mild TBI relative to healthy volunteers, while these BCAAs levels in patients with severe TBI were further reduced compared with all groups. Orthopedic patients exhibited reductions in BCAA comparable to those in patients with mild TBI. The decrease in patients with mild and severe TBI persisted for derivatives of BCAA catabolic intermediates. Only plasma levels of methylglutarylcarnitine, a derivative of a leucine metabolite, were increased in patients with severe TBI compared with all other groups. Notably, logistic regression combination of three BCAA metabolites whose levels were changed by 24 h post-injury provided prognostic value (area under the curve=0.92) in identifying patients with severe TBI in whom elevated intracranial pressure (≥25 mm Hg) developed. These changes suggest alteration of BCAA metabolism after TBI may contribute to decreased energy production and neurotransmitter synthesis and may contribute to TBI pathophysiology. Supplementation of BCAAs and/or their metabolites may reduce TBI pathology and improve outcome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain / metabolism*
  • Area Under Curve
  • Brain Concussion / blood*
  • Brain Concussion / physiopathology*
  • Chromatography, Gas
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Middle Aged
  • ROC Curve
  • Young Adult


  • Amino Acids, Branched-Chain