The aim of this study was to determine whether the cumulative effects of head impacts from a season of high school football produce magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) measureable changes in the brain in the absence of clinically diagnosed concussion. Players from a local high school football team were instrumented with the Head Impact Telemetry System (HITS™) during all practices and games. All players received pre- and postseason MRI, including diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT) was also conducted. Total impacts and risk-weighted cumulative exposure (RWE), including linear (RWELinear), rotational (RWERotational), and combined components (RWECP), were computed from the sensor data. Fractional, linear, planar, and spherical anisotropies (FA, CL, CP, and CS, respectively), as well as mean diffusivity (MD), were used to determine total number of abnormal white matter voxels defined as 2 standard deviations above or below the group mean. Delta (post-preseason) ImPACT scores for each individual were computed and compared to the DTI measures using Spearman's rank correlation coefficient. None of the players analyzed experienced clinical concussion (N=24). Regression analysis revealed a statistically significant linear relationship between RWECP and FA. Secondary analyses demonstrated additional statistically significant linear associations between RWE (RWECP and RWELinear) and all DTI measures. There was also a strong correlation between DTI measures and change in Verbal Memory subscore of the ImPACT. We demonstrate that a single season of football can produce brain MRI changes in the absence of clinical concussion. Similar brain MRI changes have been previously associated with mild traumatic brain injury.
Keywords: Head Impact Telemetry System; diffusion tensor imaging; football; mild traumatic brain injury; risk-weighted cumulative exposure.