Concussion and teens: new tools reveal gender differences

Medical Sciences

UVic neuroscientist Brian Christie, right, assists PhD student Cristina Pinar and visiting research student Tanya Agarwal with the preparation of samples for protein biomarker analysis as part of their concussion research. Credit: Jody Paterson

A new tool for studying repeated mild concussions in young brains could increase understanding and transform treatment for this high-risk age group, says University of Victoria neuroscientist Brian Christie.

Concussions are a growing health concern around the world, but their immediate and long-term effects—especially in adolescents—are still largely unknown. Adolescents are the population most at risk for concussions.

Christie and his team of undergraduate and graduate students have developed a new model called Awake Closed Head Injury (ACHI) to study the effects of multiple mild concussions in the still-developing brains of young people. The team also created a new concussion assessment tool that has already helped to identify differences in the way repeated concussions affect males and females.

Existing concussion protocols don’t differentiate by gender. But, according to Christie, if ongoing testing proves these results accurate, it could pave the way for more personalized and effective treatments in youths.

Current models for understanding head trauma have focused disproportionally on one-off concussions in adults. The models often use anesthesia or surgical interventions, such as craniotomies, to induce mild damage to the brain for research purposes—procedures that can skew research results.

ACHI focuses instead on the effects of repeated mild concussions in the adolescent brain. It reproduces the known impacts of such concussions and associated cognitive deficits in a more reliable and precise manner than traditional models.

The UVic-designed concussion assessment tool is adapted from the sport concussions assessment tool (SCAT) used for athletes. Like SCAT, the new tool uses a point system to measure reflexes and behavioral cues, allowing researchers to accurately diagnose the severity of the concussion. The new tool led to the team’s discovery that gender is a factor in how concussions manifest.

“Males tend to show acute symptoms right away, but they also seem to recover fairly quickly,” says Christie who works in UVic’s Division of Medical Sciences. “Conversely, females don’t show as significant behavioural symptoms in the acute phase, but they do a few days later. This suggests a slower, more progressive nature to their injury.”

The research team has other projects in process to examine how repeated injuries affect the functioning of neurons in the brain, providing insight into sex-appropriate biomarkers for concussions. 

Christie’s peer-reviewed paper is available in the open-access journal PLOS One. Christie is the senior author but credits the diligence of his student researchers for bringing the work to completion.

To participate in Christie’s concussion research, contact

A press kit containing a high-resolution photo is available on Dropbox.

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Media contacts

Brian Christie (Division of Medical Sciences) at

Rhys Mahannah (Communications, Division of Medical Sciences) at 250-472-5527 or

In this story

Keywords: brain, health, youth, concussion, neuroscience, adolescents

People: Brian Christie

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