New study: CTE caused by repetitive hits to the head, not concussions


  • A new study led by Boston University researchers discovered additional proof linking hits to the head, and not concussions, led to the onset of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
  • The study was made to learn more about the neurodegenerative disease and its relationship to traumatic brain injuries (TBI), concussions and subconcussive head injuries.
  • CTE has been linked to head trauma suffered by football players, boxers, other athletes and combat veterans.

A recent study published Thursday in Brain, a peer-reviewed journal of neurology, revealed that CTE extends beyond sports and the military.

“There are many vulnerable populations at greatly increased risk of repetitive head injury including domestic abuse, incarcerated populations, homeless,” Dr. Lee Goldstein, a corresponding author of the study, told The Post.

“The concussion is really irrelevant for triggering CTE,” Goldstein, an associate professor at Boston University School of Medicine and College of Engineering, said.

“It’s really the hit that counts. It’s a big problem for the NFL, a bigger problem for amateur athletics and an even larger problem still for the greater public.”

“The same brain pathology that we observed in teenagers after head injury was also present in head-injured mice. We were surprised that the brain pathology was unrelated to signs of concussion, including altered arousal and impaired balance, among others. Our findings provide strong causal evidence linking head impact to TBI and early CTE, independent of concussion. The results may explain why approximately 20 percent of athletes with CTE never suffered a diagnosed concussion,” Goldstein explained.

The researchers analyzed the brains of four teenage athletes who received closed-head impact trauma anywhere from one to 128 days before death. Examination of their brains revealed a range of post-traumatic pathology. One case is an early-stage CTE and two cases with abnormal accumulation of tau protein which is a CTE indicator.

Goldstein and Dr. Ann McKee explained that “the bobblehead effect” is “the injury on top of the injury, on top of the injury. The brain is shaken, but not so violently that the damage to brain cells is severe. In football, it happens in minutes, tens of minutes or over a day or week. But the cumulative effect, when the brain is not fully healed, particularly in younger people, is really, really damaging.”

Goldstein added, “And that’s the problem. You won’t see it by focusing on concussion.”

“This latest study, as well as other research around TBI and CTE, continues to advance the discussion, awareness and understanding around this important issue,” Dr. Alan Sills, a neurosurgeon who is the league’s chief medical officer, said in a statement. “As highlighted in this recent study, repetitive hits to the head have been consistently implicated as a cause of CTE by this research group.”

Source: The Washington Post

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