Imaging the Impact of High-Impact Sports

  • Photo courtesy of UCLA
    Photo courtesy of UCLA

    Despite the devastating consequences of traumatic brain injury and the large number of athletes playing contact sports who are at risk, no method has been developed for early detection or tracking of the brain pathology associated with these injuries. Now, UCLA researchers have taken pictures of the abnormal tau proteins associated with such injuries in five living National Football League (NFL) retirees. Previously, confirmation of the presence of this protein, which is also associated with Alzheimer's disease, could only be established by an autopsy.

    The preliminary findings of the study are reported in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. For the study, the researchers recruited five retired NFL players with a history of one or more concussions and cognitive or mood symptoms. They used positron emission tomography (PET) to view and identify the locations in the brain of amyloid beta "plaques" and neurofibrillary tau "tangles" that had been stained with a chemical marker, FDDNP, that binds to the deposits. When the researchers compared the scans to those of healthy men of comparable age, education, body mass index and family history of dementia, they found that the NFL players had more of the FDDNP in the amygdala and subcortical regions of their brains - regions that control learning, memory, behavior, emotions and other mental and physical functions. Those players who had experienced a greater number of concussions were found to have higher FDDNP levels.

    The NFL players also had more depressive symptoms than the healthy men and demonstrated greater evidence of cognitive loss.

    "Early detection of tau proteins may help us to understand what is happening sooner in the brains of these injured athletes," says Gary Small, MD, the Parlow-Solomon Professor on Aging and professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA. This non-invasive method also may be "a critical first step" in developing interventions to prevent symptom onset and progression of chronic traumatic encephalopathy - a degenerative condition caused by buildup of tau protein that is associated with memory loss, confusion, progressive dementia, depression, suicidal behavior, personality changes, abnormal gait and tremors.

    "PET Scanning of Brain Tau in Retired National Football League Players: Preliminary Findings," American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, February 2013

    From Around the Web...
    DAY THREE We heard from four incredibly wise and informative doctors on Saturday morning. 9 am The...
    Photo by Randall Cordero
    1. You can do it on your lunch break. Even though it works you hard, it does not leave you spent...
    Originally published in the Fall 2015 issue of Robb Report Health & Wellness as “Cognitive...
    Foreo Issa electric toothbrush: $199 Foreo has delivered a new toothbrush aimed at improving on...
    << Back top “80 Amazing Holiday Gifts.” The Level by FluidStance: $289–$429  “I’ve been on my...
    For runners looking to step up their game, Sensoria Fitness Smart Socks has them covered....
    Innovative, inspiring, and intuitive, the Ralph Lauren PoloTech smart shirt is everything you...
    Safe cycling is all about riding smart, and with the Livall Bling Helmet, using one’s head has...
    It is a perilous time to be sick. Medical error kills 400,000 Americans a year, making it the third...
    Two days ago the FDA approved Addyi, a new drug meant to boost the libido in women. While some see...