Concussions not the only cause of CTE
Most research into the causes of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease associated with former professional football players, has focused on concussions. But a major new study has confirmed that CTE can also result from repeated, seemingly minor blows to the head—not just the big collisions that leave players woozy or unconscious. Researchers examined the brains of four teenage athletes who died within four months of sustaining a sports-related head injury. One was posthumously diagnosed with CTE; the others had brain changes associated with the condition. To determine the cause of CTE, scientists then exposed mice to repeated head trauma akin to what football players experience during a game or military personnel face during combat. They found that the rodents’ brains showed the same signs of CTE-associated pathologies as the athletes’ brains did—even when the animals had displayed no signs of concussion. Lead author Lee Goldstein of Boston University says about 20 percent of known cases of human CTE involve no record of concussion. “The concussions we see on the ballfield or the battlefield—those people are going to get attention,” he tells the Los Angeles Times. “We’re really worried about the many more people who are getting hit and getting hurt—their brain is getting hurt—but are not getting help. It’s the hits, not the concussions, that cause CTE.” CTE can currently be diagnosed only during an autopsy, but those suspected of suffering from the disease tend to exhibit symptoms including memory loss, confusion, impulsivity, and depression.