Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) from Multiple Head Trauma in Football Players, Boxers, Soccer Player, and Soldiers


CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta explains the causes and symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, more commonly known as CTE.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is a progressive degenerative brain disease with symptoms of dementia — memory loss, aggression, confusion and depression. Symptoms may appear years or many decades after the trauma, but generally begin 8–10 years after experiencing repetitive mild traumatic brain injury (TBI).

CTE is caused by repeated trauma to the head, but may also be caused by a single severe blast with violent movement of the head and skull.

High levels of tau protein discovered in fluid bathing the brain are linked to poor recovery after head trauma

Tau protein is a highly soluble microtubule-associated protein (MAP). In humans, tau proteins are found mostly in neurons compared to non-neuronal cells. One of tau’s main functions is to modulate the stability of axonal microtubules — the part of a nerve cell that sends messages.

In a study published in December 2015 in Acta Neuropathol (PubMed Abstract link), immunohistochemistry studies of brain tissue obtained from a brain bank revealed 21 of 66 former athletes had cortical tau pathology consistent with CTE. CTE pathology was not detected in 198 individuals without exposure to contact sports, including 33 individuals with documented single-incident TBI sustained from falls, motor vehicle accidents, domestic violence, or assaults.

Among those exposed to contact sports, those with CTE pathology (showing symptoms) did not differ from those without CTE pathology (not showing symptoms) with respect to noted clinicopathologic features discovered by immunohistochemistry studies.

Researchers concluded the study identified a small, yet significant, subset of individuals with neurodegenerative disorders and concomitant CTE pathology.

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