What Is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy?

CTE is a neurodegeneration, a brain disease that's progressive and characterized by a build-up of a protein called tau.

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So Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is a neurodegeneration. It's a brain disease that's progressive, that's characterized by the build-up of a protein called Tau. What generally happens is a person gets symptomatic in their middle life--30s, 40s. Personality change, mood swings, irritability, maybe aggression, and those symptoms continue to progress as an individual lives. And ultimately, if the individual lives long enough, there can be dementia, Parkinsonism, gate or speech disorders. And now we're even seeing a subset with ALS-like symptoms. In my laboratory, we prepare these very large brain slides, which aren't very commonly used. The beauty of those large brain slides is that you can hold them up on a photo scanner or just look at them with your naked eye, and you can see that the pathology. You can see how widespread the pathology is. So what it looks like is the Tau protein, which we, through a series of reagents, stain brown so you see this tremendous build-up of this brown protein throughout the cerebral cortex and in the deep structures of the brain. It doesn't take an expert, it doesn't take a doctor or pathologist. Anybody can see that they don't want those brown, ugly spots on their brain, and it's clear.
Posted on BrainLine December 10, 2010.

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

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