Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) has impacted over 60% of all OEF/OIF Veterans over the past decade, and over 20% of these Veterans carry a diagnosis of postconcussion syndrome. Arguably the most disabling postconcussion symptoms are sleep-wake and cognitive disturbances. Sleep, cognitive function, and related symptoms often remain impaired >10-15 years following mTBI. Not only are these symptoms themselves exceedingly difficult to live with, but poor sleep and cognition also interfere with ongoing rehabilitation interventions, and prevent reintegration into civilian life and return to gainful employment. Most existing therapies for sleep-wake and cognitive dysfunction following mTBI are merely symptomatic, and they also suffer from low efficacy and/or patient acceptability. Thus, there is an urgent need to identify mechanism- based interventions for sleep and cognitive problems following mTBI, in order to facilitate optimal rehabilitation and functional outcomes. Our long-term goal is to implement a brain-bioactive pharmacological intervention to address sleep and cognitive disturbance in individuals with mTBI. The overall objective of this application, which represents our first step towards this goal, is to test the feasibility and limited efficacy of a highly promising therapy consisting of a dietary supplement, branched chain amino acids (BCAA; i.e., leucine, isoleucine, and valine), to treat sleep disturbances in individuals with mTBI. There is compelling scientific precedent and safety data to support the testing of BCAA therapy in Veterans with mTBI. Our preclinical data has shown that the mechanism of action for BCAA, acting as a precursor to the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate, restores the balance of excitation to inhibition within the dysfunctional brain circuits for both sleep and cognition in mTBI.23-26 With these data, we have also meticulously mapped the optimal dosing, duration, and route of administration in mice.27 Further, we now have pilot data from a double-blinded, placebo-controlled study showing that 3 weeks of dietary BCAA supplementation, but not placebo, significantly improved self-reported sleep in Veterans. Other research groups have used dietary BCAA supplementation in humans across multiple conditions at doses up to 60 grams/day and durations up to 12 months with few to no side effects.32-49 Our central hypothesis is that BCAA dietary supplementation will improve sleep quality in Veterans with mTBI. As a first step towards testing this hypothesis, we propose a long-term feasibility, acceptability, and limited efficacy study of BCAA's effects on sleep that will be randomized, placebo-controlled, and double- blinded. Veterans with mTBI will be randomly assigned to receive BCAA at 20, 40 or 60 grams/day per oral (PO) or a placebo (n=50 per group) for 12 weeks. Feasibility, acceptability, and limited efficacy outcomes based on sleep (e.g., self-report, continuous actigraphy, and overnight polysomnography) will be assessed. We expect that these results will inform the optimal study methodology and design for a future, full- scale randomized controlled trial, including the identification of the proper dose and duration of BCAA to improve sleep and the potential subpopulations of Veterans with mTBI that may be differentially affected by BCAA. We also intend to use this work to generate hypotheses on the effect of BCAA on cognition and overall quality of life measures to inform future research.

Public Health Relevance

The most persistent and disabling postconcussive symptoms following mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) are sleep disturbances and cognitive dysfunction, with few tractable interventions currently available. We propose to test a novel therapy consisting of dietary supplementation with branched chain amino acids (BCAA), based on our preclinical work showing restoration of glutamate neurotransmitter balance in sleep and memory circuits. Supplementation with Amino acid Rehabilitative Therapy in TBI (SmART-TBI) is a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blinded, exploratory clinical trial of BCAA intended to establish the feasibility, acceptability, and limited efficacy of long-term BCAA to improve sleep and cognition in Veterans with mTBI. These results will inform the optimal study design of a future, full-scale randomized controlled trial, including the identification of the proper dose and duration of BCAA to improve sleep and the potential subpopulations of Veterans with mTBI that may benefit the most.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Veterans Affairs (VA)
Non-HHS Research Projects (I01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRD1)
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Portland VA Medical Center
United States
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