Study confirms a physical correlate to PTSD: "brown dust" in the brain

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Isn’t this referring to “Shell Shock” (I’m sure there is some more scientific name for the condition) rather than PTSD? I might feel like my brain is full of brown dust, but I didn’t get blown up to get my disorder.


Nearly 350,000 service members have been given a diagnosis of traumatic brain injury over the past 15 years, many of them from blast exposure. The real number is likely to be much higher, because so many who have enlisted are too proud to report a wound that remains invisible.

The hallmark of C.T.E. (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) is an abnormal protein called tau, which builds up, usually over years, throughout the cerebral cortex but especially in the temporal lobes, visible across the stained tissue like brown mold.

If Perl’s discovery is confirmed by other scientists — and if one of blast’s short-term signatures is indeed a pattern of scarring in the brain — then the implications for the military and for society at large could be vast…

( What if PTSD Is More Physical Than Psychological? - The New York Times )

I wonder sometimes if there’s any correlation between war veteran PTSD and police brutality and excessive force as seen on our streets today. Don’t a lot of them wind up working in law enforcement once discharged? Perhaps it’s all another dimension of victory for Dick Cheney and his backers’ agenda to ‘redefine the possible’ in society via long-term social engineering.


New research from the Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Science points to links between police brutality and pre-existing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the officers themselves.

For the public, the danger of police officers developing PTSD comes from an increased startle response, suspicion, and aggressiveness. These tendencies can make officers more likely to lash out at the public and result in the deadly overreactions that sometimes occur.

Symptoms of PTSD are often triggered by the same situations that caused the trauma. This may be why officers who kill unarmed civilians report feeling confused…

( )

It seems, unfortunately, that there may be some substance to this concept. “Feeling confused,” huh. Like when the Florida officer shot a therapist in the street lying down with their arms in the air and later stated that they didn’t know why they took the shot, and like the many other unarmed civilians who are gunned down by law enforcement?

Perhaps scanning for “brown mold” in the brain could become an important part of ongoing certification for someone to carry vested authority and lethal weapons.


I think it’s a distinct possibility. One of the side effects of military cutbacks is that there’s a culture of “up or out”, meaning you get promoted or you get fired. And a lot of the ones who are getting fired are the grunts, who’ve done a tour or two in combat zones but have no other skills to merit promotion. All of a sudden they’re dumped back into the civilian world, and even the ones who have recognized PTSD are stuck being treated by the VA, in secret, which is often no treatment at all or being drugged into insensibility. Meanwhile, the cops are always hiring, and the military culture of aggression isn’t seen as a drawback. So people with hidden or suppressed PTSD are ending up on the streets, with guns and way more power than they should have.



I wonder what this means when it comes to non-concussive PTSD cases like mine. Or at least, I’m not sure how non-concussive my case is. I have had a concussion that has nothing to do with an explosion or trauma. It will be interesting to see how this research develops. I’ll definitely be looking over this paper with interest later.


Yes, today. Sadly, it is not some wrongful thing relegated to the past, as we’ve famously seen reported in the national news and on social media.

As long as I’m speculating, is there any correlation between ‘shell shock’ during WW I and the rise of National Socialist extralegal power via the SA in 1920s-1930s Germany?

All “Shell Shock” is PTSD - but not all PTSD is “Shell Shock” - the term and identifying the symptoms had a common cause were the beginnings of identifying what would later be clinically called PTSD.

“Shell Shock” is not a clinical term however.


Unless you believe in souls, all mental processes have physical correlates

That’s not quite true. Even in some schools of physics, the physics is practically dwarfed by the meta-physical. Much of physical reality only potentially exists, hidden and unfolding from implicate structures over time.

Point being that not all models of non-physicality rely upon the “spiritual”.


I think the simpler and, I think, more poetic answer is inside. Look deep inside yourself. You’d be surprised how much of you is poop.


Neuroanatomist and A&P professor here.

I have some issues with the reporting. Not surprisingly, as reporters rarely understand the science they report on. (I miss Maggie Koerth-Baker, btw)

  1. PTSD can be acquired without physical injury. So what this study may be delineating is something we would probably call ‘long term psychological and physiological effects of blast injury’ and not ‘the cause of PTSD.’ Like many disorders, we may be treating several different disorders like one thing when in reality they are many things. That would be the real breakthrough here.

  2. The dust is visible on the cerebral cortex? But then they say it’s in the border between white and grey matter. So no, it’s not a surface dust, it’s a few millimeters deep. Unless the writer is simply describing this poorly.

  3. It can be seen mainly in the temporal lobe, according to the author. Then they say it’s in regions associated with sleep and cognition. Regions associated with sleep are mainly the hypothalamus and the pineal gland, although I’ll be the first to admit this is a poorly understood realm of neuroscience. Cognition would be the cerbral cortex in general, especially frontal lobe. No reason to single out the temporal lobe for this. Temporal lobe is more about hearing, language, and memory and emotions from the inclusion of the hippocampus and amygdala, two structures this article doesn’t mention, but would make sense for the symptoms.

  4. Problems with Tau proteins have long been associated with various forms of dementia and is under investigation for its potential role in Alzheimer’s. They didn’t get this wrong they just left it out and it lends a lot to the understanding of this finding.

  5. They talk about the neuroscientist who made this breakthrough having studied thousands of brains and never having seen this pattern before. Ok, but a lot of people have PTSD and a lot of people have blast exposure. So either the scientist is BSing, or the author of the article is romanticizing a little bit.


I am not sure what you are getting at, there. I think it’s not too surprising that whatever is inside/outside of anything depends upon where the boundaries are negotiated.

That makes two of us.


I’ve started a “reporting-last” approach lately. I read the study and then the reporting. Often I don’t have time to do this, and this leads to me not even reading the reporting.

I still consider myself better informed that way.


The comparisons you’re describing are critical in order to draw any productive conclusions about PTSD secondary to neurological damage. Specifically:

Concussion, no PTSD
Concussion, PTSD
No concussion, PTSD
No concussion, no PTSD (control)

Not that any science major doesn’t already know this. Just expanding the point here for the sake of discussion.


There’s also the issue of whether the concussive forces and PTSD occur together. My one and only concussion happened in a gym class where I was running around like an idjit. A pretty stress-free environment.

Also, do boxers, wrestlers, and football players have PTSD-like symptoms? The tau-protein issues are present there in quantity in ways that aren’t typically associated with trauma.

Studies like this often start important discussions, but I have a feeling no big questions have been answered. (Which still might make this a good study!)


Study confirms a physical correlate to PTSD: “brown dust” in the brain

On this day the “brain vacuum” was invented for “brown dust” in the brain.

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The symptoms of PTSD are likely caused by more than one thing. One can survive both physical trauma as well as mental trauma. It stands to reason that both can result in similar symptoms, even if there are two different causes (which may also have some relation.)


I think you need to drop a “no” in the third example.

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D’oh! Thank you.

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