The cumulative effects of repetitive subclinical head impacts during sports may result in chronic white matter (WM) changes and possibly, neurodegenerative sequelae. In this pilot study, we investigated the longitudinal WM changes over the course of two consecutive high-school football seasons and explored the long-term effects of a jugular vein compression collar on these WM alterations. Diffusion tensor imaging data were prospectively collected both pre- and postseason in the two consecutive seasons. Participants were assigned into either collar or noncollar groups. Tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) approach and region of interest-based approach were used to quantify changes in WM diffusion properties. Despite comparable exposure to repetitive head impacts, significant reductions in mean, axial, and/or radial diffusivity were identified in Season 1 in multiple WM regions in the noncollar group but not in the collar group. After an 8- to 9-month long off-season, these changes observed in the noncollar group partially and significantly reversed but also remained significantly different from the baseline. In Season 2, trend level WM alterations in the noncollar group were found but located in spatially different regions than Season 1. Last, the WM integrity in the collar group remained unchanged throughout the four time points. In conclusion, we quantitatively assessed the WM structural changes and partial reversal over the course of two consecutive high-school football seasons. In addition, the mitigated WM alterations in athletes in the collar group might indicate potential effect of the collar in ameliorating the changes against repetitive head impacts. Hum Brain Mapp 39:491-508, 2018. © 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Keywords: neck collar; subconcussive head impact; white matter alteration.
© 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.