Thursday, May 2, 2019

Former NFL Players With Neuropsychiatric Symptoms Showed Higher Tau Levels on Brain Scans

Former National Football League (NFL) players with cognitive, mood, and behavioral problems showed high levels of tau protein deposits on brain scans, according to a study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine. The findings suggest such scans might be helpful in diagnosing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

CTE is a neurodegenerative disease that has been associated with a history of repetitive head impacts, such as those incurred in contact or collision sports. The diagnosis of CTE is based on a specific pattern of tau deposition in the brain (along with minimal amyloid-beta deposition), but the feasibility of detecting these deposits in the brains of living persons has not been well studied, wrote Robert A. Stern, Ph.D., of Boston University School of Medicine’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center and colleagues.

“Although persons with the neuropathologic features of CTE have been reported to have cognitive impairment, mood disturbance, and behavioral dyscontrol, it is unclear whether these features are associated with regional tau deposition, tau-related neuronal degeneration, or other consequences of brain trauma,” Stern and colleagues wrote. “Because CTE can be diagnosed only through postmortem neuropathological examination, detection of the disease during life could be used to assess its epidemiology, risk factors, and course and could be used in treatment and prevention trials.”

The researchers studied 26 former NFL players who reported cognitive, mood, and poor behavioral-control symptoms, as well as 31 asymptomatic men with no history of traumatic brain injury. Each participant underwent flortaucipir PET (for the detection of tau), florbetapir PET (for the detection of amyloid-beta), and T1-weighted volumetric MRI of the head. All participants were administered the Mini-Mental State Examination (which assesses cognition), and the former NFL players were also administered a battery of neuropsychological tests and neuropsychiatric assessments.

Stern and colleagues found that the group of former NFL players had higher tau levels in brain regions that are affected by CTE compared with the controls. The former player and control groups did not differ significantly in amyloid-beta levels. Further studies are needed to determine whether elevated CTE-associated tau can be detected in individuals.

“Although flortaucipir PET has been found to be a sensitive and specific tracer for tau species in Alzheimer’s disease, newer tracers … are being developed and might help to improve our ability to detect and to track tau abnormalities in CTE,” the researchers wrote.

For more information, see the Psychiatric News article “Study Finds High Prevalence of CTE, Other Disorders in Former Football Players.”

(Image: iStock/fredrocko)


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