The multiple hit hypothesis for Gulf War illness: self-reported chemical/biological weapons exposure and mild traumatic brain injury
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Citation (published version)Patricia Janulewicz, Maxine Krengel, Emily Quinn, Timothy Heeren, Rosemary Toomey, Ronald Killiany, Clara Zundel, Joy Ajama, James O'Callaghan, Lea Steele, Nancy Klimas, Kimberly Sullivan. 2018. "The Multiple Hit Hypothesis for Gulf War Illness: Self-Reported Chemical/Biological Weapons Exposure and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury." BRAIN SCIENCES, Volume 8, Issue 11. https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci8110198
The Gulf War Illness Consortium (GWIC) was designed to identify objective biomarkers of Gulf War Illness (GWI) in 1991 Gulf War veterans. The symptoms of GWI include fatigue, pain, cognitive problems, gastrointestinal, respiratory, and skin problems. Neurotoxicant exposures during deployment, such as pesticides, sarin, and pyridostigmine bromide pills have been identified as contributors to GWI. We have also found an association between mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) and increased rates of GWI. However, the combined impact of these physical and chemical exposures has not yet been explored in GWI. The objective of this study was to examine both self-reported mTBI and exposure to chemical/biological weapons (CBW) as a multiple or two hit model for increased risk of GWI and other chronic health conditions. The study population included 125 Gulf War (GW) veterans from the Boston GWIC. Exposure to CBW was reported in 47.2% of the study population, and 35.2% reported sustaining a mTBI during the war. Results confirmed that those with both exposures (mTBI and CBW) had higher rates of comorbid chronic health conditions while rates of GWI were equivalent for mTBI and CBW or mTBI alone. The timing of exposure to mTBI was found to be strikingly different between those with GWI and those without it. Correspondingly, 42.3% of GWI cases reported experiencing a mTBI during military service while none of the controls did (p = 0.0002). Rates of mTBI before and after the war did not differ between the cases and controls. In addition, 54% of cases compared to 14.3% of controls (p = <0.001) reported being exposed to CBW during military service. The current study examined the relation of the separate and combined effects of exposure to mTBI and CBW in 1991 GW veterans. The findings from this study suggest that both exposure to mTBI and CBW are associated with the development of GWI and multiple chronic health conditions and that combined exposure appears to lead to higher risk of chronic health effects.
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