Hypoconnectivity and hyperfrontality in retired American football players

Sci Rep. 2013 Oct 17:3:2972. doi: 10.1038/srep02972.


Recent research has raised concerns about the long-term neurological consequences of repetitive concussive and sub-concussive injuries in professional players of American Football. Despite this interest, the neural and psychological status of retired players remains unknown. Here, we evaluated the performances and brain activation patterns of retired National Football League players (NFL alumni) relative to controls using an fMRI-optimised neuropsychological test of executive function. Behaviourally, the NFL alumni showed only modest performance deficits on the executive task. By contrast, they showed pronounced hyperactivation and hypoconnectivity of the dorsolateral frontal and frontopolar cortices. Critically, abnormal frontal-lobe function was correlated with the number of times that NFL alumni reported having been removed from play after head injury and was evident in individual players. These results support the hypothesis that NFL alumni have a heightened probability of developing executive dysfunction and suggest that fMRI provides the most sensitive biomarker of the underlying neural abnormality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Athletes*
  • Brain Injury, Chronic / diagnosis
  • Brain Injury, Chronic / etiology
  • Brain Injury, Chronic / physiopathology
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Connectome
  • Female
  • Football / injuries*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Support Vector Machine
  • Young Adult