Immunoglobulin A Autoreactivity toward Brain Enriched and Apoptosis-Regulating Proteins in Saliva of Athletes after Acute Concussion and Subconcussive Impacts

J Neurotrauma. 2021 Sep 1;38(17):2373-2383. doi: 10.1089/neu.2020.7375. Epub 2021 May 24.


The diagnosis and management of concussion is hindered by its diverse clinical presentation and assessment tools reliant on subjectively experienced symptoms. The biomechanical threshold of concussion is also not well understood, and asymptomatic concussion or "subconcussive impacts" of variable magnitudes are common in contact sports. Concerns have risen because athletes returning to activity too soon have an increased risk of prolonged recovery or long-term adverse health consequences. To date, little is understood on a molecular level regarding concussion and subconcussive impacts. Recent research suggests that neuroinflammatory mechanisms may serve an important role subsequent to concussion and possibly to subconcussive impacts. These studies suggest that autoantibodies may be a valuable tool for detection of acute concussion and monitoring for changes caused by cumulative exposure to subconcussive impacts. Hence, we aimed to profile the immunoglobulin (Ig)A autoantibody repertoire in saliva by screening a unique sport-related head trauma biobank. Saliva samples (n = 167) were donated by male and female participants enrolled in either the concussion (24-48 h post-injury) or subconcussion (non-concussed participants having moderate or high cumulative subconcussive impact exposure) cohorts. Study design included discovery and verification phases. Discovery aimed to identify new candidate autoimmune targets of IgA. Verification tested whether concussion and subconcussion cohorts increased IgA reactivity and whether cohorts showed similarities. The results show a significant increase in the prevalence of IgA toward protein fragments representing 5-hydroxytryptamine receptor 1A (HTR1A), serine/arginine repetitive matrix 4 (SRRM4) and FAS (tumor necrosis factor receptor superfamily member 6) after concussion and subconcussion. These results may suggest that concussion and subconcussion induce similar physiological effects, especially in terms of immune response. Our study demonstrates that saliva is a potential biofluid for autoantibody detection in concussion and subconcussion. After rigorous confirmation in much larger independent study sets, a validated salivary autoantibody assay could provide a non-subjective quantitative means of assessing concussive and subconcussive events.

Keywords: antigen microarray; autoantibodies; concussion; saliva; traumatic brain injury.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Athletic Injuries / metabolism*
  • Autoantibodies / metabolism*
  • Brain Concussion / metabolism*
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin A, Secretory / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / immunology
  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT1A / immunology
  • Saliva / immunology*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult
  • fas Receptor / immunology


  • Autoantibodies
  • HTR1A protein, human
  • Immunoglobulin A, Secretory
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • SRRM4 protein, human
  • fas Receptor
  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT1A