PET Scans Now Identify Brain Disease In Living NFL Players

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PET Scans Now Identify Brain Disease In Living NFL Players

A group of researchers from UCLA are using PET scans to recognize chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in living NFL players. The scans show the presence of tau proteins linked to CTE. Before this, identification of the presence of this protein, which is also linked to Alzheimer’s disease, could only be confirmed via autopsy.

Scientists from UCLA used a brain-imaging tool that was originally developed for examining neurological changes linked to Alzheimer’s disease. They put to work a chemical marker they made named FDDNP, which binds to deposits of amyloid beta “plaques” and neurofibrillary tau “tangles” (telltale signs of Alzheimer’s) – then they viewed it using a PET (positron emission tomography) scan. The researchers were able to identify where in the brain these irregular proteins built up. Participants received intravenous injections of FDDNP, while the researchers then performed PET brain scans and compared them to those of healthy men with comparable BMI, education, age, and family history of dementia. The scientists discovered that in comparison to healthy men, the NFL players had increased levels of FDDNP in the amygdala and subcortical regions of the brain – the areas that control emotions, behavior, memory, and learning. Participants who had a greater number of concussions had higher levels of FDDNP.

Study author Dr. Jorge R. Barrio, a professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, said, “The FDDNP binding patterns in the players’ scans were consistent with the tau deposit patterns that have been observed at autopsy in CTE cases.”

Period Of Increased Vulnerability For Repeat Traumatic Brain Injury

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Repeat traumatic brain injury affects a subgroup of the 3.5 million people who suffer head trauma each year. Even a mild repeat TBI that occurs when the brain is still recovering from an initial injury can result in poorer outcomes, especially in children and young adults.

John T. Povlishock, PhD, Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Neurotrauma and Professor, VCU Neuroscience Center, Medical College of Virginia, Richmond, states that recent studies of TBI in animal models have shown that while repeat injury can exacerbate structural, functional, metabolic, and behavioral responses, “these responses only occur when the injury is repeated within a specific time frame post-injury.” “Specifically, this window of risk is greatest when the interval between injuries is short, hours to days, while any risk for increased damage is obviated when the intervals between injuries are elongated over days to weeks,” says Dr. Povlishock. It is not yet clear if these time periods of increased risk are age- or gender-specific or depend on the intensity of the initial injury.”

A consistent finding following TBI in both humans and animal models is a decrease in glucose uptake by the brain. In the article, “Repeat Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: Mechanisms of Cerebral Vulnerability,” the authors propose that the duration of metabolic slowdown in the brain could serve as a valuable biomarker for how long a child might be at increased risk of repeat TBI. See Mayumi L. Prins, Daya Alexander, Christopher C. Giza, and David A. Hovda. Journal of Neurotrauma. January 1, 2013, 30(1): 30-38. doi:10.1089/neu.2012.2399.

Difusion Tension Imaging More Likely to Reveal Brain Damage than Other Forms of Imaging

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The researchers who were led by Dr. Michael Lipton stated:

“DTI has been studied extensively as a tool for identification of brain abnormalities related to TBI and understand the relationship of these brain abnormalities to other clinical features of the disorder. During the past decade, the number of such studies has risen exponentially and continues to increase with no sign of abatement. A unifying theme can be deduced from this large body of research:

DTI is an extremely useful and robust tool for the detection of TBI-related brain abnormalities. Overwhelming consensus of these studies is that low white matter FA is characteristic of TBI.
We also found an overwhelming consensus that imaging abnormalities detected with DTI are associated with important clinical outcomes. This further validates DTI as a meaningful measure of clinically important brain injury.
In summary, DTI provides a robust measure of clinically important TAI at cross-section, despite the variability inherent in characteristics of patients with TBI and injury mechanisms as well as study differences in data acquisition and analysis methods.”

Neuro-optometric rehabilitation after brain injury

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A new study from the Center for Brain, Biology, and Behavior at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln explains how using prisms to correct visual deficits caused by traumatic brain injury improves not only vision but also the functioning of other parts of the brain. The article from the journal Eye and Brain, 18 January 2012 is entitled, “Neural mechanisms underlying neurooptometric rehabilitation following traumatic brain injury.”

Brain injury is a disease, not an event

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In his recent white paper (Conceptualizing Brain Injury as a Chronic Disease), Brent Masel, M.D., medical director of BIAA, makes the case that brain injury is a disease, not an event. In support of that proposition, Dr. Masel presented stunning statistics showing, among many other things, that persons with traumatic brain injury have higher morbidity and mortality rates than their non-injured cohorts.