Professional fighters brain health study: rationale and methods

Am J Epidemiol. 2013 Jul 15;178(2):280-6. doi: 10.1093/aje/kws456. Epub 2013 Jun 4.


Repetitive head trauma is a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease and is the primary cause of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. However, little is known about the natural history of, and risk factors for, chronic traumatic encephalopathy or about means of early detection and intervention. The Professional Fighters Brain Health Study is a longitudinal study of active professional fighters (boxers and mixed martial artists), retired professional fighters, and controls matched for age and level of education. The main objective of the Professional Fighters Brain Health Study is to determine the relationships between measures of head trauma exposure and other potential modifiers and changes in brain imaging and neurological and behavioral function over time. The study is designed to extend over 5 years, and we anticipate enrollment of more than 400 boxers and mixed martial artists. Participants will undergo annual evaluations that include 3-tesla magnetic resonance imaging scanning, computerized cognitive assessments, speech analysis, surveys of mood and impulsivity, and blood sampling for genotyping and exploratory biomarker studies. Statistical models will be developed and validated to predict early and progressive changes in brain structure and function. A composite fight exposure index, developed as a summary measure of cumulative traumatic exposure, shows promise as a predictor of brain volumes and cognitive function.

Keywords: boxing; chronic traumatic encephalopathy; mixed martial arts; traumatic brain injury.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Boxing / injuries*
  • Brain Injury, Chronic / diagnosis
  • Brain Injury, Chronic / etiology*
  • Brain Injury, Chronic / physiopathology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Clinical Protocols
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Martial Arts / injuries*
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Statistical
  • Occupational Injuries / diagnosis
  • Occupational Injuries / etiology*
  • Occupational Injuries / physiopathology
  • Psychological Tests
  • Research Design*
  • Sample Size
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult