A spot of tea for your brain injury?


Erik Fraunberger

Principal Investigator

Erik Fraunberger


University of Calgary

Grant Type

Graduate grant in 2015


Traumatic brain injury

Erik Fraunberger

Medical student at the University of Calgary

The impact

When you think about a cup of tea, you are probably not thinking about protocatechuic acid (PCA), an antioxidant found in it. Erik’s funded project examined the effects of PCA to improve the recovery of juvenile rats after they experience a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). As catchy as the title of this study is, Erik’s rats treated with PCA did not show any significant changes in terms of behaviour or cellular health.

However, like any well prepared scientist, Erik planned his experiments to test other important personalized medicine factors. This may come as a surprise, but men and women are biologically different, yet the sex of the animals are not often considered in neuroscience studies. Erik discovered that there is a different path of dysfunction between male and female rats who experience mild TBI in terms of their behavior and markers of cellular heath. In particular, the cellular powerhouses in the brains of female rats, the mitochondria, consumed oxygen at a faster rate but more inefficiently, possibly indicating cellular dysfunction. So, in addition to raising caution surrounding tea (or really any single molecule) as a treatment for TBI, Erik was able to publish this study in a peer-reviewed journal and help inform the world about the importance of considering sex as a factor in personalized medicine.

The study

After discovering this difference in how male and female brains respond to brain injury, Erik examined what these differences more closely. Since his research and Branch Out project examined pediatric as opposed to adult TBI, this project had a lot of added complexity of the brain still growing and developing interacting with the response to injury. Traditional methods in neuroscience don’t work that well to understand such a complex problem, leading Erik to turn towards different scientific approaches that are designed to handle such complexity. In a peer-reviewed paper published by Erik, he proposed using Graph Theory network analysis as an approach to understanding the role of inflammation in the recovery from concussion. Erik published yet another Peer-Reviewed paper (#sciencerockstar) using this new complexity-based approach and found some differences between the sexes when you looked at the entire constellation of inflammation markers that would have been missed if you used the traditional approach of only looking at a few. Overall, Erik’s work advanced our understanding of sex differences in TBI and opened up the possibility of individualized TBI treatment plans in the future.

What's next?

Erik successfully defended his PhD in July 2020 and started his medical school journey at the University of Calgary the very same afternoon! A proud Echidna (Class of 2023), Erik continues to work with Branch Out on the SRP and hopes to continue research into neurological disorders during his future residency in a brain-related field.

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Fraunberger EA, Scola G, Laliberté VL, Duong A, Andreazza AC. Redox Modulations, Antioxidants, and Neuropsychiatric Disorders. Oxid Med Cell Longev, 2016, 4729192. doi:10.1155/2016/4729192

Fraunberger EA, Shutt TE, Esser MJ. Sex-dependent and chronic alterations in behavior and mitochondrial function in a rat model of pediatric mild traumatic brain injury. Brain Inj, 33(4), 534-542. doi:10.1080/02699052.2019.1565898

Sabouny R, Fraunberger E, Geoffrion M, Ng AC, Baird SD, Screaton RA, Shutt TE. The Keap1-Nrf2 Stress Response Pathway Promotes Mitochondrial Hyperfusion Through Degradation of the Mitochondrial Fission Protein Drp1. Antioxid Redox Signal, 27(18), 1447-1459. doi:10.1089/ars.2016.6855

Fraunberger E, Esser MJ. Neuro-Inflammation in Pediatric Traumatic Brain Injury—from Mechanisms to Inflammatory Networks. Brain Sciences. 2019; 9(11):319. https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci9110319