Traumatic Brain Injury: From Molecule to Mind


To understand basic mechanisms relevant to developing effective approaches for treating traumatic brain injury.


Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is a serious medical problem that has only recently come into the public eye, primarily as a result of combat blast-related injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it has long been under recognized as a public health problem in the U.S., with an estimated 1.7 million people affected annually. Symptoms may include impairments in memory, concentration, sleep, and mood, as well as seizures, and can persist for many years. There are currently no treatments that directly target damage to the brain in TBI.

Recent advances in Neuroscience, from basic findings at the level of genes and molecules, to cells and circuits, and up to human brain imaging, offer new possibilities for the development of effective therapies for brain disorders. In particular, findings on nerve growth and regeneration, as well as on the function and self-organization of circuits involved in higher cognitive functions, provide a starting point for addressing the specific pathology associated with TBI. Under the aegis of the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind (KIBM) at UCSD, we have assembled an interdisciplinary team of exceptional scientists representing each of these levels of research as well as clinical research and practice. Working together in close coordination, our goal is to bring the benefit of current neuroscientific understanding to bear on the problem of TBI.

Our Team

Ralph Greenspan, PhD
James Brewer, MD, PhD
Anders Dale, PhD
Eric Halgren, PhD
Jill Leutgeb, PhD
Stefan Leutgeb, PhD
Yimin Zou, PhD

Research Program

Our research focuses on identifying the nerve circuits that are most critical in the deficits produced by TBI, and on the molecular mechanisms in these nerve cells that may provide a path towards repairing the damage.

  • Neurophysiology: rat model (Jill and Stefan Leutgeb)
  • Molecular biology and genetics: mouse model (Yimin Zou), drosophila model (Ralph Greenspan)
  • Human brain imaging and genetic variation (Anders Dale and Eric Halgren)
  • Clinical research, human memory (James Brewer)

212,742 TBI cases in the military since 2000

  • 77% mild
  • 17% moderate
  • 1% severe
  • 2% penetrating
  • 3% not classified

TBI (even when mild) increases the risk for Alzheimer's-like dementia, aggression, memory loss, depression, and Parkinson's-like symptoms.

Gulf War and Health: Volume 7. Long-term Consequences of Traumatic Brain Injury (2008 National Institute of Medicine Report)
The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (2011)


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