Multimodal Imaging of Retired Professional Contact Sport Athletes Does Not Provide Evidence of Structural and Functional Brain Damage

J Head Trauma Rehabil. 2018 Sep/Oct;33(5):E24-E32. doi: 10.1097/HTR.0000000000000422.


Background: Long-term consequences of playing professional football and hockey on brain function and structural neuronal integrity are unknown.

Objectives: To investigate multimodal metabolic and structural brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) differences in retired professional contact sport athletes compared with noncontact sport athletes.

Methods: Twenty-one male contact sport athletes and 21 age-matched noncontact sport athletes were scanned on a 3 tesla (3T) MRI using a multimodal imaging approach. The MRI outcomes included presence, number, and volume of focal white matter signal abnormalities, volumes of global and regional tissue-specific brain structures, diffusion-tensor imaging tract-based spatial statistics measures of mean diffusivity and fractional anisotropy, quantitative susceptibility mapping of deep gray matter, presence, number, and volume of cerebral microbleeds, MR spectroscopy N-acetyl-aspartate, glutamate, and glutamine concentrations relative to creatine and phosphor creatine of the corpus callosum, and perfusion-weighted imaging mean transit time, cerebral blood flow, and cerebral blood volume outcomes. Subjects were also classified as having mild cognitive impairment.

Results: No significant differences were found for structural or functional MRI measures between contact sport athletes and noncontact sport athletes.

Conclusions: This multimodal imaging study did not show any microstructural, metabolic brain tissue injury differences in retired contact versus non-contact sport athletes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Athletes*
  • Atrophy / diagnostic imaging
  • Blood Volume
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • Football*
  • Hockey*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multimodal Imaging
  • White Matter / diagnostic imaging