Dr. Ann McKee: The First Time I Saw CTE, in Boxer Paul Pender

“I was blown away.”

Dr. Ann McKee recounts the first time she saw signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in a boxer Paul Pender, who was thought to have had Alzheimer’s disease.

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The first time I saw CTE was actually in a boxer. He came into our Alzheimer’s center. He was diagnosed by our very good clinicians as having Alzheimer’s disease. And I know from speaking to the clinicians that the reason they didn’t think that boxing was accounting for his symptoms was that he had retired from boxing at the age of 32, and here he was in his seventies. He became symptomatic in his fifties, but much worse in his sixties and died at 73. They couldn’t understand why there had been that lag period of some 30 years before we really exhibited prominent symptoms. So the diagnosis during life was Alzheimer’s disease and then when I saw the brain, when I looked at it under the microscope, it had just this florid pattern of tau and it was just, to a person who’s fascinated by this, who studied tau for many years, was really very involved the intricacies for different diseases as their signature. I was blown away. I’d never seen a pattern like that, and it circled around blood vessels. It was very patchy. It was very dense in parts of the brain that are usually not affected. So it was fascinating. I immediately started really trying to understand Paul Pender’s brain.
Posted on BrainLine January 11, 2019.

This video was produced by BrainLine thanks to generous support from the Infinite Hero Foundation.

About the author: Ann McKee, MD

Ann McKee, MD is the chief neuropathologist for the Framingham Heart Study and the Boston University-based Centenarian Study. She is also the chief neuropathologist for the Boston-based Veterans Administration Medical Centers and for the Sports Legacy Institute.

Ann McKee