More Findings About Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

There are limits to how many times a baseball player can throw a ball before he wears out his shoulder, but there are no limits to how many times an athlete can get hit in the head without permanent damage.

See all videos with Christopher Nowinski.

CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is a neurodegenerative disorder that appears to be linked to repetetive brain trauma. It appears to start while you are an athlete and then progress throughout your life. We find a number of abnormalities in the brain, and the pathologic work is done by my colleague Dr. Anne McKee. It's best known for an abnormality called tau protein that has become hyperphosphorylated. Meaning it's a structure of the axon that actually starts falling apart. There's a number of other abnormalities that come with it. It appears to start in certain parts of the brain and progress to others. People who start showing symptoms, often in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, deal with short-term memory problems, deal with behavioral disorders, personality change, impulse control problems, and mood disorders, frequently depression. Dr. Robert Cantu and I started the Sports Legacy Institute in 2007 after I had been acquiring some brains for pathological study to really get to the bottom of what is happening with repetetive brain trauma. Because of the battles that were going on back in 2007 with people denying that there were any problems to concussions, we realized that to continue that research and then to turn that research into policy change and education, we needed to have a structure. So we put together SLI, a 51c3 charity, and then we partnered with Boston University School of Medicine to do the long-term research and basically found their top Alzheimer's researchers, which is the disease most similar to CTE, and said can you please work on CTE. And they agreed. So I worked with Dr. Anne McKee and Bob, and they run our clinical and pathological research programs, and then SLI is now focused on supporting and facilitating that work. For example, I sign up a lot of people to donate their brain and participate in longitudinal research. I still chase brains for research, and we have over 105 in the brain bank. In SLI I'm focused on education, policy change, advocacy, and fundraising. We do a lot of grassroots education. We do a lot of policy work. One of the more recent things we launched is the Hit Count Campaign. The idea that we have limits on how often a baseball player can throw a ball so they don't wear out their elbow, but we don't have limits to how often you can hit them in the head to wear out their brain. We will be working with a lot of researchers to get that implemented.
Posted on BrainLine September 20, 2012.

Produced by Victoria Tilney McDonough and Erica Queen, BrainLine, and Dan Edblom.

Comments (1)

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Current patient of dr. Dwyer who is an associate dr. Katz in the neurology department at the Boston Medical Center. Question where can I find a self-assessment of the effects of CTE in my likely prognosis?