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20-05-2012 | Article

Football-induced head trauma mimics blast exposures


Free abstract

MedWire News: The traumatic brain injury (TBI) experienced by young amateur football players and at least one professional wrestler is virtually identical to that of soldiers exposed to blasts from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), a new report indicates.

Postmortem examination of a series of brains obtained from veterans of the US military who had been exposed to blasts or concussive injuries showed evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) similar to that seen in the brains of young athletes who had sustained concussions playing football, and to that of a professional wrestler with a history of repeated concussive injuries.

The tau protein-linked neurodegenerative changes associated with CTE were not in evidence in the brains of normal, age-matched controls with no previous histories of blast exposures, concussive injuries, or neurological diseases, write Leo E Goldstein (Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts) and co-authors.

"We uncovered evidence of CTE-linked tau neuropathology, including multifocal perivascular foci of neurofibrillary and glial tangles immunoreactive for phosphorylation-independent (Tau-46) and phosphorylation-dependent (CP-13) tau epitopes, in the brains of blast-exposed and/or concussive-injured veterans.

"This blast-associated CTE-linked tau neuropathology was indistinguishable from the tau neuropathology, neuroinflammation, and neurodegeneration observed in the brains of young-adult athletes with histories of repeat concussive injury," they wrote.

The investigators found similar evidence of histopathological, structural, and biochemical evidence of CTE-linked neuropathology after 2 weeks in the brains of mice exposed to a single controlled blast, and deficits in hippocampal-dependent learning that persisted for at least 1 month.

"Overall, our findings of persistent CTE-linked neuropathology in the brains of military veterans with blast exposure and/or concussive injury and young athletes with repeat concussive injury suggest that TBI induced by different insults under different conditions can trigger common pathogenic mechanisms leading to similar neuropathology and sequelae. Notably, within this small controlled case series, the effects of blast exposure, concussive injury, and mixed trauma (blast exposure and concussive injury) were indistinguishable," Goldstein et al comment.

By Neil Osterweil