Female RNA concussion (FeRNAC) study: assessing hormone profiles and salivary RNA in females with concussion by emergency departments in New Zealand: a study protocol

Natalie Hardaker, Doug King, Patria A. Hume, Tom Stewart, Stacy Sims, Indira Basu, Blair Shilton, James Selfe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Females of reproductive age with concussion report a greater number of symptoms that can be more severe and continue for longer than age matched males. Underlying mechanisms for sex differences are not well understood. Short non-coding Ribonucleic Acids (sncRNAs) are candidate salivary biomarkers for concussion and have been studied primarily in male athletes. Female sex hormones influence expression of these biomarkers, and it remains unclear whether a similar pattern of sncRNA expression would be observed in females following concussion. This study aims to evaluate recovery time, the ratio of salivary sncRNAs and symptom severity across different hormone profiles in females presenting to emergency departments (ED) with concussion and, to investigate the presence of low energy availability (LEA) as a potential modifier of concussion symptoms. Methods: This prospective cohort study recruits participants from New Zealand EDs who are biologically female, of reproductive age (16–50 years) and with a confirmed diagnosis of concussion from an ED healthcare professional. Participants are excluded by ED healthcare professionals from study recruitment as part of initial routine assessment if they have a pre-diagnosed psychiatric condition, neurological condition (i.e., epilepsy, cerebral palsy) or more than three previously diagnosed concussions. Participants provide a saliva sample for measurement of sncRNA’s, and online survey responses relating to hormone profile and symptom recovery at 7-day intervals after injury until they report a full return to work/study. The study is being performed in accordance with ethical standards of the Declaration of Helsinki with ethics approval obtained from the Health and Disability Ethics Committee (HDEC #2021 EXP 11655), Auckland University of Technology Ethics Committee (AUTEC #22/110) and locality consent through Wellington hospital research office. Discussion: If saliva samples confirm presence of sncRNAs in females with concussion, it will provide evidence of the potential of saliva sampling as an objective tool to aid in diagnosis of, and confirmation of recovery from, concussion. Findings will determine whether expression of sncRNAs is influenced by steroid hormones in females and may outline the need for sex specific application and interpretation of sncRNAs as a clinical and/or research tool. Trial registration: Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (ANZCTR) registration number ACTRN12623001129673.

Original languageEnglish
Article number149
Number of pages9
JournalBMC Neurology
Publication statusPublished - 2 May 2024


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