Brain Inflammation in Football Players Tied to Dementia and, Possibly, Parkinson’s in Study

Joana Fernandes, PhD avatar

by Joana Fernandes, PhD |

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football and brain trauma

Brain inflammation suffered by athletes in contact sports like football appears to be directly linked to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a cause of dementia, and may lead to neurological diseases like Parkinson’s, according to a study in the journal Acta Neuropathologica Communications.

Indeed, the authors argue that American football players and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma are at higher risk of developing such inflammation, and the number of years they engage in such activities can predict the occurrence of brain disease.

In the study, “Microglial Neuroinflammation Contributes To Tau Accumulation In Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy,” researchers analyzed how sports can trigger the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive and degenerative brain disease associated with brain trauma due to repetitive hits to the head.

They analyzed postmortem brain samples from 66 former football players and 16 non-athlete controls, and found that samples from the players had higher numbers of inflammatory cells in the frontal cortex of the brain and signs of CTE.

They also found that the number of years playing football was proportional to the number of inflammatory cells, and the development of CTE pathology and dementia.

“This study provides evidence that playing football for a prolonged period can result in long-term brain inflammation and that this inflammation might lead to CTE,” Jonathan Cherry, PhD, the study’s first author, said in a news release. “Although inflammation may be protective in the brain especially right after an injury, our study suggests that years after a period of playing football inflammation can persist in the brain and is linked to the development of CTE”.

According to the researchers, future studies are warranted to understand whether treating this inflammation can prevent or avoid the development of CTE.

“Furthermore, brain inflammation could be used as a predictive biomarker to help identify patients at risk of developing CTE in life,” said Cherry.

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