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The VA/DoD Chronic Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium: An Overview at Year 1

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This federally funded program identifies gaps in research and provides support services for scientific, clinical, and translational research projects focused on the long-term effects of mild traumatic brain injury in veterans and active-duty service members.


The Chronic Effects of Neuro-trauma Consortium (CENC) is a federally funded research project devised to address the long-term effects of mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) in military service members (SMs) and veterans. Announced by President Barack Obama on August 20, 2013, the CENC is one of 2 major initiatives developed in response to injuries incurred by U.S. service personnel during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) as part of the National Research Action Plan. The CENC is jointly funded by the DoD and the VA, with a budget of $62.175 million over 5 years.

The consortium funds basic science, clinical, and translational research efforts with a closely integrated supportive infrastructure, including administrative services, regulatory guidance, study design, biostatistical consultation, data management, common data element application, and interdisciplinary communication. In addition, the consortium facilitates and integrates the activities of a diverse group of skilled specialty research teams, allowing them to fully focus their efforts on understanding and clarifying the relationship between combat-related mTBI and chronic neurotrauma effects, including neurodegeneration.


Nearly 20% of the more than 2.6 million U.S. SMs deployed since 2003 to OEF and OIF have sustained at least 1 TBI, predominantly mTBI. Almost 8% of all OEF/OIF veterans demonstrate persistent post-TBI symptoms more than 6 months postinjury. Acute mTBI effects are typically transient, with headache, cognitive, behavioral, balance, and sleep symptoms most often seen, but symptoms may persist and even lead to lifelong disability. In these individuals, additional chronic effects, such as neuroendocrinologic abnormalities, seizures and seizurelike disorders, fatigue, vision and hearing abnormalities, and numerous other somatic symptoms are more common over time. The long-term effects from single or repeated mTBIs on the persistence of these symptoms, on combat and trauma-related comorbidities, and on long-term brain functioning are unknown.

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Increasing evidence supports the link between both concussions and combat-related trauma with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which results in progressive cognitive and behavioral decline in subpopulations 5 to 50 years out from repeated or cumulative mTBI exposures. The possibility of a link between mTBI, persistent symptoms, and early dementia has widespread implications for SMs and veterans; however, these chronic and late-life effects of mTBI are poorly understood.

Traumatic brain injuries of mixed severity have been linked to a higher incidence of Alzheimer disease (AD) and other dementias and an earlier onset of AD, although negative findings have also been reported. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy has been reported to occur in retired boxers at higher rates and at younger ages compared with dementia in the general population. More recently, brain autopsies of athletes from a variety of sports with confirmed CTE have demonstrated elevated tau proteins, tau-immunoreactive neurofibrillary tangles, and neuropil threads, suggesting that pathologic processes similar to those occurring in AD may be involved. Longitudinal research bridging SMs, veterans, and athletes with neurotrauma has been fragmented and incompletely focused on the strategic needs (eg, troop readiness) and vision of the DoD and VA.

Critical gaps exist in the literature with few prospective, well-controlled, longitudinal studies on late-life outcomes and neurodegeneration after mTBI, as well as in related basic science research. These research gaps are particularly prominent in the potentially unique injuries and difficulties seen in combat-exposed populations. The existing research, although suggestive, is not rigorous or robust enough to allow for a clear understanding of the relationships, risks, and potential effective interventions for mTBI, chronic symptoms, and neurodegeneration.

The CENC was developed to create a road map of existing knowledge gaps, to recruit the top relevant subject matter experts in the country, to develop and establish a cohesive set of rigorously designed studies to address these knowledge voids, and to leverage core consortium resources both efficiently and effectively.

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Given these gaps in scientific research and knowledge, the DoD and VA jointly issued a request for proposals to fund a project to address these concerns. After a competitive application process, an integrated proposal, led by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) was announced as the recipient of the Presidential award.

Consortium Structure

The CENC, serving as the comprehensive research network for DoD and VA, focuses on (1) identifying and characterizing the anatomic, molecular, and physiologic mechanisms of chronic injury from mTBI and potential neurodegeneration; (2) investigating the relationship of comorbidities (psychological, neurologic, sensory, motor, pain, cognitive, and neuroendocrine) of trauma and combat exposure to TBI with neurodegeneration; and (3) assessing the efficacy of existing and novel treatment and rehabilitation strategies for chronic effects and neurodegeneration following TBI.

The consortium is a collaboration among more than 30 universities, nonprofit research organizations, VAMCs, and military medical centers made up of a leadership core, 5 research infrastructure cores, 8 active studies, a data safety monitoring committee, a consumer advisory board, a scientific advisory board, and an independent granting mechanism to foster additional research in chronic effects after mTBI.


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