Professional boxers and other contact sport athletes are exposed to repetitive brain trauma that may affect motor functions, cognitive performance, emotional regulation and social awareness. The term of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was recently introduced to regroup a wide spectrum of symptoms such as cerebellar, pyramidal and extrapyramidal syndromes, impairments in orientation, memory, language, attention, information processing and frontal executive functions, as well as personality changes and behavioural and psychiatric symptoms. Magnetic resonance imaging usually reveals hippocampal and vermis atrophy, a cavum septum pellucidum, signs of diffuse axonal injury, pituitary gland atrophy, dilated perivascular spaces and periventricular white matter disease. Given the partial overlapping of the clinical expression, epidemiology and pathogenesis of CTE and Alzheimer's disease (AD), as well as the close association between traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) and neurofibrillary tangle formation, a mixed pathology promoted by pathogenetic cascades resulting in either CTE or AD has been postulated. Molecular studies suggested that TBIs increase the neurotoxicity of the TAR DNA-binding protein 43 (TDP-43) that is a key pathological marker of ubiquitin-positive forms of frontotemporal dementia (FTLD-TDP) associated or not with motor neurone disease/amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Similar patterns of immunoreactivity for TDP-43 in CTE, FTLD-TDP and ALS as well as epidemiological correlations support the presence of common pathogenetic mechanisms. The present review provides a critical update of the evolution of the concept of CTE with reference to its neuropathological definition together with an in-depth discussion of the differential diagnosis between this entity, AD and frontotemporal dementia.
© 2011 The Authors. Neuropathology and Applied Neurobiology © 2011 British Neuropathological Society.