MRI Scans Find Brain Changes In Football Players After Just One Season

New findings presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) indicate high school football players may develop brain abnormalities related to repeated head impacts after just a single season.

Using advanced MRI scans, researchers from UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas were able to detect abnormalities in brain tissue which directly correlated with the athlete’s exposure to head impacts throughout the season.

“It’s important to understand the potential changes occurring in the brain related to youth contact sports,” said lead researcher Elizabeth Moody Davenport, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “We know that some professional football players suffer from a serious condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. We are attempting to find out when and how that process starts, so that we can keep sports a healthy activity for millions of children and adolescents.”

For the study, the team equipped 24 players from a local North Carolina high school football team with high-tech helmet sensors called the Head Impact Telemetry System (HITS), which were worn during all practices and games. The sensors allowed the researchers to record data on head impacts such as the magnitude, location, and direction of individual hits.

The players also underwent pre- and post-season imaging using a specialized MRI scan that collects diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and diffusion kurtosis imaging (DKI) data, as well as conducting a magnetoencephalography (MEG) scan.

In the study, each player underwent pre- and postseason imaging: a specialized MRI scan, from which diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and diffusion kurtosis imaging (DKI) data were extracted to measure the brain’s white matter integrity, and a magnetoencephalography (MEG) scan, which records and analyzes the magnetic fields produced by brain waves. Diffusion imaging can measure the structural white matter changes in the brain, and MEG assesses changes in function.

“MEG can be used to measure delta waves in the brain, which are a type of distress signal,” explained Davenport. “Delta waves represent slow wave activity that increases after brain injuries. The delta waves we saw came from the surface of the brain, while diffusion imaging is a measure of the white matter deeper in the brain.”

When the team analyzed the data they “saw changes in these young players’ brains on both structural and functional imaging after a single season of football,” according to Davenport.

While the team found changes in the brains of the athletes, none of the football players were diagnosed with concussions during the course of the study. However, the researchers noted that players with the most exposure to head impacts showed the greatest change in diffusion imaging and MEG metrics.

“MEG can be used to measure delta waves in the brain, which are a type of distress signal,” explained Davenport. “Delta waves represent slow wave activity that increases after brain injuries. The delta waves we saw came from the surface of the brain, while diffusion imaging is a measure of the white matter deeper in the brain.”

The findings may be reason for concern, but it is hard to discern the actual effects of the brain changes based on the findings of this study.

“Change in diffusion imaging metrics correlated most to linear acceleration, similar to the impact of a car crash,” said Davenport. “MEG changes correlated most to rotational impact, similar to a boxer’s punch. These results demonstrate that you need both imaging metrics to assess impact exposure because they correlate with very different biomechanical processes.”

, , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply