Background: Little solid information is available on the possible risks for neuronal injury in amateur boxing.
Objective: To determine whether amateur boxing and severity of hits are associated with elevated levels of biochemical markers for neuronal injury in cerebrospinal fluid.
Design: Longitudinal study.
Setting: Referral center specializing in evaluation of neurodegenerative disorders.
Participants: Fourteen amateur boxers (11 men and 3 women) and 10 healthy male nonathletic control subjects.
Interventions: The boxers underwent lumbar puncture 7 to 10 days and 3 months after a bout. The control subjects underwent LP once.
Main outcome measures: Neurofilament light protein, total tau, glial fibrillary acidic protein, phosphorylated tau, and beta-amyloid protein 1-40 (Abeta([1-40])) and 1-42 (Abeta([1-42])) concentrations in cerebrospinal fluid were measured.
Results: Increased levels after a bout compared with after 3 months of rest from boxing were found for 2 markers for neuronal and axonal injury, neurofilament light protein (mean +/- SD, 845 +/- 1140 ng/L vs 208 +/- 108 ng/L; P = .008) and total tau (mean +/- SD, 449 +/- 176 ng/L vs 306 +/- 78 ng/L; P = .006), and for the astroglial injury marker glial fibrillary acidic protein (mean +/- SD, 541 +/- 199 ng/L vs 405 +/- 138 ng/L; P = .003). The increase was significantly higher among boxers who had received many hits (>15) or high-impact hits to the head compared with boxers who reported few hits. In the boxers, concentrations of neurofilament light protein and glial fibrillary acidic protein, but not total tau, were significantly elevated after a bout compared with the nonathletic control subjects. With the exception of neurofilament light protein, there were no significant differences between boxers after 3 months of rest from boxing and the nonathletic control subjects.
Conclusions: Amateur boxing is associated with acute neuronal and astroglial injury. If verified in longitudinal studies with extensive follow-up regarding the clinical outcome, analyses of cerebrospinal fluid may provide a scientific basis for medical counseling of athletes after boxing or head injury.