Structural brain differences in ex-athletes with multiple concussions
Terry, Douglas Pryse
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Recent research has suggested that mild traumatic brain injuries, colloquially referred to as concussions, may alter brain structures and influence cognitive functioning later in life. The purpose of this study was to compare neuroanatomical structures between former high school football players with a history of multiple concussions and former high school football players without a concussive history using traditional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). Further, this study examined if concussion status and brain-based metrics were associated with cognitive functioning. It was hypothesized that those with concussive histories would have smaller overall brain volumes, hippocampal volume, and anterior cingulate on MRI scans, as well as reduced white matter integrity on DTI scans compared to the non-concussed controls. Participants were right-handed males currently ages 40-65 recruited from the community. Results failed to show volumetric differences between the two groups on MRI scans, though overall gray matter volume was associated with global cognition in the overall sample. However, DTI scans showed reduced fractional anisotropy across multiple brain regions, suggesting diffuse white matter differences. Tractography analyses of a priori regions of interest showed increased radial diffusivity in the corpus callosum of the concussed group as compared to the control group. This is suggestive of myelin-related changes, such as a disruption in initial white matter formation during development given that the concussions sustained were during adolescence. There results suggest that there are subtle neuroanatomical differences in the brain of people who have sustained concussions early in life, but that these differences have not manifested in a functional deficit.