Athlete Concussions And Brain Injury Linked
December 3, 2012

Study Links Concussion To Brain Injury In Deceased NFL Athletes

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

Findings reported in the journal Brain help to extend the knowledge of the clinical and pathological abnormalities associated with chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

A new study examined the brains of 68 new cases of four progressive stages of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

CTE is associated with repeated brain trauma and has been found in professional athletes, military veterans, and some people who injure themselves with repetitive head banging.

The 68 brains in the study came from men between 17 to 98-years-old, 64 of which were athletes and three who were veterans with no sports background.

Almost half of the men in the study had played in the National Football League, one in the Canadian Football League and four in the National Hockey League. Seven of the brains of the men in the study were professional boxers.

The researchers were permitted to release a few of the identities of the men studied, which included Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey, Hall of Fame running back Ollie Matson and running back Cookie Gilchrist.

The team interviewed survivors of the brain donors to learn about behaviors exhibited as the disease progressed. In stage 1 of the illness, CTE victims suffered headaches, and had trouble concentrating and remaining attentive.

Those victims experiencing stage 2 showed signs of depression, explosive tempers and short-term memory problems. Victims in stage 3 had cognitive impairment and difficulty with planning, organization, handling multiple tasks and judgment. The researchers said that victims suffering the final stage suffered from full dementia.

Ann McKee, a School of Medicine professor and a co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, said that information vital to effective treatment of CTE remains elusive, including the disease's prevalence, distinctions between CTE's symptoms and those of similar conditions, the influence of genetics, "and whether other environmental exposures also play an additive role” in the illness.

The authors said that individuals who experienced repetitive mild traumatic brain injury and did not develop behavioral or cognitive abnormalities were not used in the study.

The team did not know how much exposure to brain trauma might trigger CTE and there is no evidence that "occasional, isolate, or well-managed concussions" causes it.

CSTE is a leader in researching the disease, and it holds a bank of more than 135 donated brains, 80 percent of which show signs of CTE. Over 600 athletes have pledged their brains to the bank for research after deaths.

Study co-author Dr. Robert Cantu, a neurosurgeon and co-director of the BU Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, said that the size of the study should confirm to any doubters that CTE is a real condition caused by repeated head injuries.

The findings could provide a blow to the National Football League in a lawsuit brought on last spring by thousands of former players and their families, who say the league hid information that linked football-related head injuries to dementia, depression and other cognitive problems.