Background: Sports-related head trauma is common but still there is no established laboratory test used in the diagnostics of minimal or mild traumatic brain injuries. Further the effects of recurrent head trauma on brain injury markers are unknown. The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between Olympic (amateur) boxing and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) brain injury biomarkers.
Methods: The study was designed as a prospective cohort study. Thirty Olympic boxers with a minimum of 45 bouts and 25 non-boxing matched controls were included in the study. CSF samples were collected by lumbar puncture 1-6 days after a bout and after a rest period for at least 14 days. The controls were tested once. Biomarkers for acute and chronic brain injury were analysed.
Results: NFL (mean ± SD, 532±553 vs 135±51 ng/L p = 0.001), GFAP (496±238 vs 247±147 ng/L p<0.001), T-tau (58±26 vs 49±21 ng/L p<0.025) and S-100B (0.76±0.29 vs 0.60±0.23 ng/L p = 0.03) concentrations were significantly increased after boxing compared to controls. NFL (402±434 ng/L p = 0.004) and GFAP (369±113 ng/L p = 0.001) concentrations remained elevated after the rest period.
Conclusion: Increased CSF levels of T-tau, NFL, GFAP, and S-100B in >80% of the boxers demonstrate that both the acute and the cumulative effect of head trauma in Olympic boxing may induce CSF biomarker changes that suggest minor central nervous injuries. The lack of normalization of NFL and GFAP after the rest period in a subgroup of boxers may indicate ongoing degeneration. The recurrent head trauma in boxing may be associated with increased risk of chronic traumatic brain injury.