Wednesday, August 20, 2014

UCD: Brain changes in football players differ from Alzheimer’s

July 28, 2011 |

Special to The Enterprise

SACRAMENTO — The brain damage found in a growing number of professional football players has been described in detail by a UC Davis Medical Center researcher and colleagues in the July issue of Neurosurgery.

The pattern of protein tangles and plaques in chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is distinct from those in Alzheimer’s patients, they report, pointing the way toward an objective diagnosis of the disease.

“The first thing is to identify the disease, give it a name, and identify its pathology. We’ve done that,” said Bennet Omalu, associate clinical professor of pathology at the UCD Medical Center and co-director of the Brain Injury Research Institute at West Virginia University.

Omalu was the first to describe CTE in 2002, after examining the brain of former Pittsburgh Steelers football player Mike Webster.

CTE is thought to be caused by blunt force impacts to the head. It can take years to manifest as behavioral and personality changes, including memory loss and mood disorders. These can progress to serious cognitive impairment, culminating in early dementia.

“We’re seeing CTE in any activity that subjects your brain to repeated acceleration and deceleration,” Omalu said.

In the current study, Omalu and colleagues detailed histological examinations of the brains of 17 athletes who played contact sports, including eight professional football players, four professional wrestlers and three high school football players. All had died suddenly from suicide, drug abuse or in accidents.

The researchers diagnosed CTE in 10 of the 14 professional athletes, and one high school football player.

The study revealed important differences between CTE and Alzheimer’s disease. Subjects with CTE had tangles of tau proteins in their brains that were similar to those seen in later-stage Alzheimer’s patients. However, these tangles occurred in a very different pattern.

While the tangles in Alzheimer’s patients are scattered throughout the brain, those in the athletes exhibited a “skip phenomenon:” The tangles occurred in some areas of the cerebral cortex but were absent in others within the same lobe. In addition, the brains of the athletes did not show the classic neuritic amyloid plaques or the widespread cerebral atrophy characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.

Finally, the subjects diagnosed with CTE ranged from 18 to 52 years old, whereas Alzheimer’s disease typically does not occur until after age 60.

The study also questions the connection between CTE and a variant of the apolipoprotein E gene.

Previous researchers have linked the ApoE4 allele to a predisposition for Alzheimer’s disease and the behavior changes of CTE. However, the CTE-positive subjects in this study were more likely to have the ApoE3 genotype, which is associated with tangle-only dementia. The CTE also produces tangle-only brain abnormalities.

Identifying the genotypes associated with CTE could help patients evaluate the risks they face when playing high contact sports.

“Although we do not have the capability now, it may one day be possible to develop a battery of genetic tests to identify individuals at high, medium or low risk for CTE. Knowing whether you had these certain types of genes, you may be advised not to play football,” Omalu said.

At present, CTE can only be diagnosed during autopsy. Omalu and his colleagues are now focusing their research on ways to identify the disease in the living and to develop potential drug treatments.

In the meantime, “parents need to be aware of the dangers of repeated blows to the head sustained by children in football, wrestling and hockey. The younger you are when you start playing, the greater risk you have of permanent brain damage,” Omalu said.

“We need to embark on an aggressive education of physicians and parents, so people are able to make informed judgments before they decide to play or not to play.”

— UC Davis Health News Office



  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .


    Summer jobs aren’t always in the bag

    By Spencer Ault | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Davis Arts Center gets a new look, thanks to Brooks

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    More details emerge in Woodland officer shootings

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Report details the face of hunger in Yolo County

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Bob Dunning: Taking on a Specktacular challenge

    By Bob Dunning | From Page: A2 | Gallery

    For the record

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

    Students can practice safe bike routes to junior highs

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

    ‘Monsters University’ to be screened in Central Park

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    California regulators approve PG&E rate hike

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B3

    America’s ‘it’ school? Look west, Harvard

    By New York Times News Service | From Page: B3

    School board preps for new academic year

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A3

    The big moveout, on ‘Davisville’

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Sunder campaign will be at Farmers Market

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Classic car show slated in Woodland

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Public opinion sought about Nishi Gateway

    By Lily Holmes | From Page: A4

    Davis Art Garage honored; bench dedication set

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8 | Gallery

    Woodland historical award winners announced

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A8



    Can’t understand this change

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

    Delta-friendly water bond is a win for all of California

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

    Bravo! The road diet works

    By Rich Rifkin | From Page: A6

    Support water bond in November

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Relay for Life team says thanks

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A6

    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A6



    Hard hoops schedule features defending national champs at UCD

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Crisp’s big hit helps A’s

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Aggie QB is back to pass … Touchdown, Tina! Tina?

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Sacramento scores early to snap skid

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B8

    Unplayable? Cubs, rain hand Giants a loss

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B8

    UCD roundup: Aggie gymnasts are awesome at academics

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B8 | Gallery



    Food that travels well for cooking out

    By Julie Cross | From Page: A5 | Gallery



    Visit Crawfish and Catfish Festival in Woodland

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

    Artists invited to paint at Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7 | Gallery

    Goldberg, Milstein to play at Village Homes

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7 | Gallery

    The voice on the CD comes alive at Music Together concert

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

    Crowd funding campaign offers support for Art Theater of Davis

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7





    Railroad museum will host Aberbach memorial

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4



    Comics: Wednesday, August 20, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: B6