Until the telltale signs of tau protein buildup in the brain were discovered a few years ago, chronic traumatic encephalopathy was confused with several degenerative brain conditions, like Alzheimer’s and ALS (better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease).
Now, researchers at Western University say in the latest issue of the journal Neurology that they’ve discovered that CTE may still be linked to Lou Gehrig’s disease.
CTE is known to cause a wide-range of symptoms. The most well-known are memory problems, difficulty controlling emotions or anger issues, and severe depression. However, some people with CTE also develop symptoms similar to a variant of ALS that causes cognitive impairment.
According to the study’s lead author, Dr. Michael J. Strong, dean of the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western, these overlapping symptoms may be caused by the same build up, or aggregates, of tau proteins.
“We have now shown that tau aggregates of those who have CTE and those who have this variant of ALS are the same,” Strong said in a statement Monday.
The team reached this conclusion by studying brain tissue samples collected at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs-Boston University-Concussion Legacy Foundation Brain Bank. where they observed that a uniquely abnormal state of tau was present in both those with CTE and ALS.
The team also used a rat model to demonstrate that head trauma could indeed trigger this specific process of tau clumping.
Strong says this discovery offers “a window into the pathway” which causes both CTE and the ALS variant to develop. While the research is still developing, he believes it may one day help find and develop new treatments for both conditions.