Brain scans of athletes exposed to repetitive head impacts show increased white matter white matter

Brain scans can reveal markers of brain injury, called white matter hyperintensities. Brain scans from contact athletes throughout their lives were compared with autopsy findings to determine if the white matter hyperintensities are associated with neuropathological conditions. The research was published in the Neurology online issue (r) on November 24, 2021. The medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology is the medical journal. The study also revealed that the presence of white matter hyperintensities was more prevalent in athletes who experienced more head traumas or engaged in contact sports for longer periods of time were more prevalent.

White matter hyperintensities refer to areas that appear bright on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. They are common among people who age and with medical conditions like high blood pressure.

These findings are thrilling as they reveal that white matter hyperintensities may cause long-term brain damage in people with a history of repetitive head-impacts. White matter hyperintensities in MRI could be a helpful instrument to investigate the effects on the brain’s white material from repetitive head impacts while the athlete is still breathing.

Michael Alosco, PhD, Study Author, Boston University School of Medicine

The study involved 75 individuals who were exposed to repetitive head impacts and who had reported symptoms. This included 67 football players plus eight other athletes in contact sports like boxing and soccer, as well as military veterans. Of the football players who had an average of 12 years, 16 players played professionally and 11 played semi-professionally.

The brains of all the deceased were donated to research to help advance understanding of the long-term effects and consequences from repetitive head impacts. Researchers then examined medical records and scans taken while athletes were alive. Participants had scans taken of their brains, in average, at 62. The average death date of the athletes was 67.

Of the participants who participated, 64% were deemed to have suffered from dementia prior to death. This was determined through a discussion with their loved relatives. Autopsies showed 53 people (or 71%) had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a neurodegenerative disorder that is caused by repeated head traumas (including those caused by football). It can lead to dementia.

After studying brain scans, scientists found that for every unit difference in white matter hyperintensity volume the odds were about two times the odds of having more severe small vessel disease, as well as other indicators of damage to white matter, as well as three times the likelihood of having more severe tau accumulation in the frontal brain lobe. Tau protein accumulation in the brain is a biomarker of progressive brain diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and CTE. Researchers also found that higher levels of white matter hyperintensities were associated with more years of playing football.

Higher scores on a survey that asked caregivers to discuss their daily tasks were linked to greater white matter hyperintensities with regard to everyday tasks.

Alosco said that there are limitations in the study and that more research is required to determine the cause and risk factors for brain lesions in those who have experienced repeated head impacts.

The study was not without its limitations due to the use of MRIs for clinical purposes and not research. Participants were mostly older, symptomatic men who were former American football players.

The study was funded by National Institute on Aging, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, Department of Veterans Affairs, the Nick and Lynn Buoniconti Foundation and Boston University’s Clinical & Translational Science Institute.

Journal reference:

Uretsky, M., et al. (2021) Association Between Postmortem FLAIR White Matter Hyperintensities and Neuropathology in Brain Donors exposed to repetitive head Impacts. Neurology.

Content Source:

Gemma Wilson

Gemma is a journalism graduate with keen interest in covering business news – specifically startups. She has as a keen eye for technologies and has predicted quite a few successful startups over the last couple of years.

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