January 31, 2013

Brain Scans Detect Protein Linked To CTE

Researchers from NorthShore Neurological Institute recently stated that they have discovered a microscopic protein that could be detected in the brain tissue of individuals who play football professionally through a brain scan; the protein has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases.

According to CNN, the study’s brain scan found tau protein in the brain tissue of five National Football League players who have since retired. The researchers utilized positron emission tomography (PET), a scan that normally evaluates Alzheimer’s disease in its beginning stages. The participants also displayed a range of cognitive and emotional issues.

“It’s definite, we found it, it’s there,” the study’s co-author Dr. Julian Bailes, who serves as the NorthShore Neurological Institute’s co-director, told CNN. “It was there consistently and in all the right places.”

In the study, researchers injected the subjects with a radioactive marker that could move throughout the body and then pass through the blood-brain barrier. It was able to latch on to the tau, a type of abnormal protein that can build up in the brain. The team of investigators then had their brains scanned and the findings of the study were recently featured in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

“We found (the tau) in their brains, it lit up,” noted the study’s lead author Dr. Gary Small in the CNN article.

The scientists also discovered a specific condition in the brain scans.

“It was identical to what’s seen in a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, CTE, that has only been diagnosed at autopsy,” continued Small, who is a professor of psychiatric of Human Behavior at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), in the CNN article.

In a report, the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy described CTE as a progressive degenerative disease that can often be found in athletes and other individuals who have had a past of continuous brain trauma. With symptomatic concussions and asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head, the disease has been found to impact boxers beginning in the 1920s. Other recent studies have also found that the condition affects retired professional football players and other athletes who have had a past of frequent brain trauma. Researchers believe that the buildup of tau and result in shifts in the brain, starting months, years, or even decades following the last brain trauma or the last few days of active athletic involvement.

For many years, it has been difficult for researchers, as CTE has not been discovered until after an individual has died. For example, this past month, the NFL Players Association released a statement regarding the CTE diagnosis of Junior Seau, a past NFL linebacker who committed suicide last year.

“Junior Seau was a leader on and off the field and the player community continues to mourn his loss. The report today about Junior having chronic traumatic encephalopathy is tragic. We know that research and partnerships will be an important factor in improving player care and safety, which is why we set aside $100M of player funds for medical research during the term of this collective bargaining agreement,” wrote NFLPA Communications in the statement. “We also know that accountability and credibility are equally important measures in the overall commitment to player safety. The only way we can improve the safety of players, restore the confidence of our fans and secure the future of our game is to insist on the same quality of medical care, informed consent and ethical standards that we expect for ourselves and for our family members.”

Furthermore, the team of investigators believes that the findings of the study are a start to probing the issue further and the researchers hope that the study could help develop a diagnostic brain scan that could diagnose CTE in its beginning stages for people who have had concussions in the past.

“This is a very exciting but preliminary study,” said Robert Sterns, a co-founder of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, in the CNN article. “The researchers did what so many of us have been wanting to do for the last couple of years.”

Image Credit: Photos.com

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