Olympic boxing is associated with elevated levels of the neuronal protein tau in plasma

Brain Inj. 2013;27(4):425-33. doi: 10.3109/02699052.2012.750752. Epub 2013 Mar 8.


Objectives: The aim of this study was to investigate if olympic (amateur) boxing is associated with elevation of brain injury biomarkers in peripheral blood compared to controls.

Materials and methods: Thirty olympic boxers competing in at least 47 bouts were compared to 25 controls. Blood was collected from the controls at one occasion and from the boxers within 1-6 days after a bout and after a rest period of at least 14 days. Tau concentration in plasma was determined using a novel single molecule ELISA assay and S-100B, glial fibrillary acidic protein, brain-derived neurotrophic factor and amyloid β 1-42 were determined using standard immunoassays.

Results: None of the boxers had been knocked-out during the bout. Plasma-tau was significantly increased in the boxers after a bout compared to controls (mean ± SD, 2.46 ± 5.10 vs. 0.79 ± 0.961 ng L(-1), p = 0.038). The other brain injury markers did not differ between the groups. Plasma-tau decreased significantly in the boxers after a resting period compared to after a bout (p = 0.030).

Conclusions: Olympic boxing is associated with elevation of tau in plasma. The repetitive minimal head injury in boxing may lead to axonal injuries that can be diagnosed with a blood test.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / blood*
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Boxing / injuries*
  • Brain Injuries / blood*
  • Brain Injuries / epidemiology
  • Brain Injuries / etiology*
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / blood*
  • Cognition
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Glasgow Coma Scale
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein / blood*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nerve Growth Factors / blood*
  • Prospective Studies
  • S100 Calcium Binding Protein beta Subunit
  • S100 Proteins / blood*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Sweden / epidemiology
  • tau Proteins / blood*


  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • Biomarkers
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein
  • Nerve Growth Factors
  • S100 Calcium Binding Protein beta Subunit
  • S100 Proteins
  • tau Proteins