Repeated hits to the head—whether from boxing, playing American football or experiencing other repetitive head injuries—can increase someone’s risk of developing a serious neurodegenerative condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Unfortunately, CTE can only be diagnosed definitively after death during an autopsy of the brain, making it a challenging condition to study and treat. The condition is characterized by tau protein building up in the brain and causes a wide range of problems in thinking, understanding, impulse control, and more. Recent NIH-funded research shows that, alarmingly, even young, amateur players of contact and collision sports can have CTE, underscoring the urgency of finding ways to understand, diagnose, and treat CTE.1
New findings published in the journal Neurology show that increased presence of certain brain lesions that are visible on MRI scans may be related to other brain changes in former football players. The study describes a new way to capture and analyze the long-term impacts of repeated head injuries, which could have implications for understanding signs of CTE. 2
The study analyzes data from the Diagnose CTE Research Project , an NIH-supported effort to develop methods for diagnosing CTE during life and to examine other potential risk factors for the degenerative brain condition. It involves 120 former professional football players and 60 former college football players with an average age of 57. For comparison, it also includes 60 men with an average age of 59 who had no symptoms, did not play football, and had no history of head trauma or concussion.