Traumatic injury caused by explosive or blast events is traditionally divided into four mechanisms: primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary blast injury. The mechanisms of blast-induced traumatic brain injury (bTBI) are biomechanically distinct and can be modeled in both in vivo and in vitro systems. The primary bTBI injury mechanism is associated with the response of brain tissue to the initial blast wave. Among the four mechanisms of bTBI, there is a remarkable lack of information regarding the mechanism of primary bTBI. On the other hand, 30 years of research on the medical application of shock waves (SWs) has given us insight into the mechanisms of tissue and cellular damage in bTBI, including both air-mediated and underwater SW sources. From a basic physics perspective, the typical blast wave consists of a lead SW followed by shock-accelerated flow. The resultant tissue injury includes several features observed in primary bTBI, such as hemorrhage, edema, pseudo-aneurysm formation, vasoconstriction, and induction of apoptosis. These are well-described pathological findings within the SW literature. Acoustic impedance mismatch, penetration of tissue by shock/bubble interaction, geometry of the skull, shear stress, tensile stress, and subsequent cavitation formation are all important factors in determining the extent of SW-induced tissue and cellular injury. In addition, neuropsychiatric aspects of blast events need to be taken into account, as evidenced by reports of comorbidity and of some similar symptoms between physical injury resulting in bTBI and the psychiatric sequelae of post-traumatic stress. Research into blast injury biophysics is important to elucidate specific pathophysiologic mechanisms of blast injury, which enable accurate differential diagnosis, as well as development of effective treatments. Herein we describe the requirements for an adequate experimental setup when investigating blast-induced tissue and cellular injury; review SW physics, research, and the importance of engineering validation (visualization/pressure measurement/numerical simulation); and, based upon our findings of SW-induced injury, discuss the potential underlying mechanisms of primary bTBI.
ASJC Scopus subject areas