The long-term consequences of repetitive head impacts: Chronic traumatic encephalopathy

Handb Clin Neurol. 2019;167:337-355. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-804766-8.00018-2.


Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a neurodegenerative disease associated with exposure to repetitive head impacts (RHI). Although described in boxers for almost a century, scientific and public interest in CTE grew tremendously following a report of postmortem evidence of CTE in the first former professional American football player in 2005. Neuropathologic diagnostic criteria for CTE have been defined, with abnormal perivascular deposition of hyperphosphorylated tau at the sulcal depths as the pathognomonic feature. CTE can currently only be diagnosed postmortem, but clinical research criteria for the in vivo diagnosis of CTE have been proposed. The clinical phenotype of CTE is still ill-defined and there are currently no validated biomarkers to support an in-life diagnosis of "Probable CTE." Many knowledge gaps remain regarding the neuropathologic and clinical make-up of CTE. An increased understanding of CTE is critical given the millions that could potentially be impacted by this disease. This chapter describes the state of the literature on CTE. The historical origins of CTE are first presented, followed by a comprehensive description of the neuropathologic and clinical features. The chapter concludes with discussion on future research directions, emphasizing the importance of diagnosing CTE during life to facilitate development of preventative and intervention strategies.

Keywords: Chronic traumatic encephalopathy; Neurodegeneration; Repetitive head impacts; Subconcussive trauma; Traumatic encephalopathy syndrome.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy*
  • Humans