As the National Football League has become the lynchpin for the brain injury conversation in America, the blame for chronic neurodegenerative problems has been routinely placed on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease found in autopsies of former football players with signs of brain trauma. However, researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine argue CTE may not be the right culprit.
David Loane, PhD, an assistant professor of anesthesiology and Alan Faden, a neurologist and professor of anesthesiology, recently suggested that neuropsychiatric problems and chronic brain damage related to traumatic brain injury are actually caused by long-term inflammation in the brain. Research has already indicated brain inflammation could be responsible for many symptoms linked to TBI such as cognitive decline, depression, and brain atrophy.
According to the report published in Neurotherapeutics, medical professionals place too much emphasis on CTE, distracting attention from more treatable and isolated symptoms. The researchers argue CTE is relatively rare, currently only diagnosed in a small group of deceased athletes, while they believe brain inflammation is involved in a much wider range of brain injuries.
“Brain inflammation is a key issue, and it has been under-emphasized,” says Dr. Faden. “Recent brain imaging studies, including those in former professional football players, indicate that persistent brain inflammation after a single moderate head injury or repeated milder traumatic brain injury may be very common, and may contribute to cognitive problems. In addition, larger studies indicate that brain inflammation persists for many months or years in many people with traumatic brain injury.”
The doctors also believe past research shows chronic brain inflammation can be treated with experimental medications and carefully monitored exercise programs.
“These studies show how repeated mild injuries can lead to the same kinds of injuries that occur after a single moderate or severe traumatic brain injury,” said Dr. Faden. “The brain inflammation and loss of brain cells look remarkably similar in both cases. Now that we understand more about the mechanism behind the damage, we can develop strategies to prevent or minimize the problems.”