Collegiate football athletes are subject to repeated traumatic brain injuriesthat may cause brain injury. The hippocampus is composed of several distinct subfields with possible differential susceptibility to injury. The aim of this study is to determine whether there are longitudinal changes in hippocampal subfield volume in collegiate football. A prospective cohort study was conducted over a 5-year period tracking 63 football and 34 volleyball male collegiate athletes. Athletes underwent high-resolution structural magnetic resonance imaging, and automated segmentation provided hippocampal subfield volumes. At baseline, football (n = 59) athletes demonstrated a smaller subiculum volume than volleyball (n = 32) athletes (-67.77 mm3; p = 0.012). A regression analysis performed within football athletes similarly demonstrated a smaller subiculum volume among those at increased concussion risk based on athlete position (p = 0.001). For the longitudinal analysis, a linear mixed-effects model assessed the interaction between sport and time, revealing a significant decrease in cornu ammonis area 1 (CA1) volume in football (n = 36) athletes without an in-study concussion compared to volleyball (n = 23) athletes (volume difference per year = -35.22 mm3; p = 0.005). This decrease in CA1 volume over time was significant when football athletes were examined in isolation from volleyball athletes (p = 0.011). Thus, this prospective, longitudinal study showed a decrease in CA1 volume over time in football athletes, in addition to baseline differences that were identified in the downstream subiculum. Hippocampal changes may be important to study in high-contact sports.
Keywords: cornu ammonis; dentate gyrus; entorhinal cortex/perirhinal cortex.