Concussion is a growing public health issue in the United States, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is the chief long-term concern linked to repeated concussions. Recently, attention has shifted toward subconcussive blows and the role they may play in the development of CTE. We recruited a cohort of high school football players for two seasons of observation. Acceleration sensors were placed in the helmets, and all contact activity was monitored. Pre-season computer-based neuropsychological tests and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) tests were also obtained in order to assess cognitive and neurophysiological health. In-season follow-up scans were then obtained both from individuals who had sustained a clinically-diagnosed concussion and those who had not. These changes were then related through stepwise regression to history of blows recorded throughout the football season up to the date of the scan. In addition to those subjects who had sustained a concussion, a substantial portion of our cohort who did not sustain concussions showed significant neurophysiological changes. Stepwise regression indicated significant relationships between the number of blows sustained by a subject and the ensuing neurophysiological change. Our findings reinforce the hypothesis that the effects of repetitive blows to the head are cumulative and that repeated exposure to subconcussive blows is connected to pathologically altered neurophysiology.
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