Recent studies on military breachers in training environments suggest that there are neurocognitive risks from exposure to repeated low-level blasts. However, the dose accumulation effects from multiple low-level blast exposures and their relation to mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) are not well understood. This paper presents a controlled neurobehavioral study of behavioral effects from repeated low-level blasts delivered at ten second intervals using a rat model.
A custom designed shock tube was developed to deliver repeated low-level blasts to rats at short intervals on the order of seconds. A total of 192 rats were divided into three cohorts of 64 for testing. Each cohort was exposed to a different blast intensity (7.5, 15, or 25 psi reflective pressure with durations <0.25 ms), and each cohort was further divided into four levels of blast repetition (0, 5, 10, or 15 repeats). Shock tube blasts were directed at the rat’s head, and startle with prepulse inhibition (PPI) and fear learning and extinction behavioral tests were performed to evaluate the blast effects.
Behavioral testing results showed that repeated low-level blasts can affect PPI and contextual fear recall. PPI was not affected by repeated exposures to 7.5 psi blasts, but repeated 15 and 25 psi blasts disrupted PPI. All cohorts showed significant fear learning, but the highest blast group (25 psi, 15 repeats) had disruptions in spatial memory recall. None of the cohorts showed effects on cued fear recall or fear extinction and retention. The data collected are being used in continuous research to understand how the behavioral changes relate to mTBI, and how these animal tests can be scaled and modeled to interpret possible outcomes for humans.