BACKGROUND: Damage to the plasma membrane is a prevalent but often neglected aspect of traumatic brain injury (TBI), which can impair neuronal signaling and hamper neurological recovery.

OBJECTIVE: This study was performed to assess a new noninvasive intervention to counteract peroxidative damage to the phospholipids in the membrane using the powerful action of foods. Although dietary docosahexaenoic acid (C22:6n-3; DHA) provides protection against TBI, the pervasive effects of TBI that cause phospholipid damage, including to DHA, raises concerns about how to preserve DHA in the brain for optimal functional recovery.

METHODS: Rats were maintained on curcumin and/or DHA-enriched diets for 2 weeks postinjury, and their brains were subjected to analyses.

RESULTS: Fluid percussion injury reduced DHA levels as well as levels of enzymes involved in the metabolism of DHA such as FADS2 and 17╬▓-HSD4 and elevated levels of markers of lipid peroxidation such as 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal (4-HNE) and 4-hydroxy-2-hexenal (4-HHE). These effects were counteracted by DHA or curcumin, whereas the combination of curcumin and DHA had an enhanced effect on DHA and 4-HNE. The combination of curcumin and DHA was also efficient in counteracting reductions in the plasticity markers, brain-derived neurotrophic factor and its receptor p-trkB, and learning ability, which had been lessened after TBI.

CONCLUSIONS: Curcumin complements the action of DHA on TBI pathology, and this property appears to be a viable strategy to counteract neuronal dysfunction after TBI and complement the application of rehabilitative interventions to foster functional recovery.