The discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in people with repeated head trauma has raised questions about the health risks of football, from youth tackle football to the National Football League (NFL). Currently, CTE can only be diagnosed after death, when an examination of the brain shows a build-up of an abnormal form of tau protein in a specific pattern.
But a new study co-authored by a Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researcher has used an experimental positron emission tomography (PET) scan to detect this pattern of tau protein build-up in the brains of a group of living former NFL players with cognitive, mood, and behavior symptoms.
The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, also found that more years of tackle football played (across all levels, including youth football) was associated with higher tau protein levels detected by the positron emission tomography (PET) scan. However, there was no relationship between the tau PET levels and cognitive test performance or severity of mood and behavior symptoms.
“This study increases significantly our understanding of CTE and gets us one step closer in diagnosing the disease earlier in life,” says study co-author Dr. Yorghos Tripodis, research associate professor of biostatistics at BUSPH. “Our ultimate goal is to design treatments for CTE, but we are not currently there yet.”
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