Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy-Like Abnormalities in a Routine Neuropathology Service

J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 2016 Dec 1;75(12):1145-1154. doi: 10.1093/jnen/nlw092.


Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has been described mainly in professional athletes and military personnel and is characterized by deposition of hyperphosphorylated tau at the depths of cortical sulci and around blood vessels. To assess CTE-like changes in a routine neuropathology service, we prospectively examined 111 brains (age 18-60 years). The presence of tau-immunoreactive deposits was staged using guidelines described by others and was correlated with the medical history. 72/111 cases were negative for CTE-like changes; 34/111 were CTE stage <1; 3/111 were CTE stage 1; and 2/111 were CTE stage 2. The combined history of head injury and alcohol and/or drug abuse was a significant predictor of any CTE-like changes. Age was also a significant predictor; most with any CTE-like changes were >40 years old. CTE-like changes were not identified at sites of contusion. Among a separate group studied retrospectively, we identified 4 cases that met full criteria for CTE. We conclude that CTE-like findings are not confined to professional athletes; the risk factors of head injury and substance abuse are similar in the routine population. However, the significance of very small hyperphosphorylated tau deposits remains to be determined. In addition, the absence of typical CTE-like deposits near contusion sites keeps open the question of pathogenesis.

Keywords: Autopsy; Brain injury; Chronic traumatic encephalopathy; Concussion; Contusion; Neurofibrillary tangles; Tau..

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropathology / methods
  • Neuropathology / trends*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Young Adult