Traumatic brain injury (TBI) from blast produces a number of conundrums. This review focuses on five fundamental questions including: (1) What are the physical correlates for blast TBI in humans? (2) Why is there limited evidence of traditional pulmonary injury from blast in current military field epidemiology? (3) What are the primary blast brain injury mechanisms in humans? (4) If TBI can present with clinical symptoms similar to those of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), how do we clinically differentiate blast TBI from PTSD and other psychiatric conditions? (5) How do we scale experimental animal models to human response? The preponderance of the evidence from a combination of clinical practice and experimental models suggests that blast TBI from direct blast exposure occurs on the modern battlefield. Progress has been made in establishing injury risk functions in terms of blast overpressure time histories, and there is strong experimental evidence in animal models that mild brain injuries occur at blast intensities that are similar to the pulmonary injury threshold. Enhanced thoracic protection from ballistic protective body armor likely plays a role in the occurrence of blast TBI by preventing lung injuries at blast intensities that could cause TBI. Principal areas of uncertainty include the need for a more comprehensive injury assessment for mild blast injuries in humans, an improved understanding of blast TBI pathophysiology of blast TBI in animal models and humans, the relationship between clinical manifestations of PTSD and mild TBI from blunt or blast trauma including possible synergistic effects, and scaling between animals models and human exposure to blasts in wartime and terrorist attacks. Experimental methodologies, including location of the animal model relative to the shock or blast source, should be carefully designed to provide a realistic blast experiment with conditions comparable to blasts on humans. If traditional blast scaling is appropriate between species, many reported rodent blast TBI experiments using air shock tubes have blast overpressure conditions that are similar to human long-duration nuclear blasts, not high explosive blasts.
Keywords: Traumatic brain injury; Post-traumatic stress disorder; Shock tube; Animal models; Injury mechanisms; Pathophysiology; Military; Civilian