Neuron Culture

CNN has a fascinating and rather frightening story about the toll football (or the concussions acquired playing it) take on the brain:

But today, using tissue from retired NFL athletes culled posthumously, the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) is shedding light on what concussions look like in the brain. The findings are stunning. Far from innocuous, invisible injuries, concussions confer tremendous brain damage. That damage has a name: chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

CTE has thus far been found in the brains of five out of five former NFL players. On Tuesday afternoon, researchers at the CSTE will release study results from the sixth NFL player exhibiting the same kind of damage.

“What’s been surprising is that it’s so extensive,” said Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Bedford, Massachusetts, and co-director of the CSTE. “It’s throughout the brain, not just on the superficial aspects of the brain, but it’s deep inside.”

CSTE studies reveal brown tangles flecked throughout the brain tissue of former NFL players who died young — some as early as their 30s or 40s.

McKee, who also studies Alzheimer’s disease, says the tangles closely resemble what might be found in the brain of an 80-year-old with dementia.

The study’s limitation to brains of athletes who died young probably creates a selection bias toward more heavily damaged brains. But still.

There were some alarming photos I couldn’t manage to swing over. Story’s definitely worth a look.

h/t: BoingBoing


  1. #1 Ben
    January 27, 2009

    So… how long before small towns stop abusing their children in football games intended to bring increased revenue to the sponsoring businesses?

  2. #2 D. C. Sessions
    January 27, 2009

    At least the NFL players are adults getting paid to puree their ‘puters. I see teenagers who walk in at A&Ox2 and whose parents refuse transport. “What?” I ask. “Oh, this happens all the time in football. The coach doesn’t send him to the hospital, he just finishes out the game.”

    Those NFL players all played high school football.

  3. #3 Comrade PhysioProf
    January 27, 2009

    This is a perfect example of risk compensation/law of unintended consequences. Football players wear extremely rigid heavy helmets, so they feel that their heads are invincible, and so they hit with them. Mini-concussions thus don’t hurt or leave obvious injuries, so football players hit their constantly. I am sure that if every time football players collided with their heads they split their scalps open, bled like stuck pigs, or even just got bruises and bumps, they’d be much more protective of their heads.

  4. #4 D. C. Sessions
    January 28, 2009

    I am sure that if every time football players collided with their heads they split their scalps open, bled like stuck pigs, or even just got bruises and bumps, they’d be much more protective of their heads.

    Hell, I’d be happy if the helmets were designed to conspicuously indicate that it’s done its job.

    Not long ago a woman brought in her husband, who was acting “strange.” On the subject of head injury, he told us he was fine; after all, he was wearing a helmet. She produced the helmet — and the sucker was cracked wide open in back.

    Backboard, transport.

    If football helmets changed color on nontrivial impact, with the manufacturer voiding the warranty for subsequent use, then teams could either keep a huge stock of spare helmets or back off on the head-butting.

    Pro teams might keep a truckload of helmets, but I can pretty well guarantee that high schools would protect their budgets by taking major steps to prevent head-butting.

    If highly-paid gladiators want to mash their brains, that’s their choice. Give the high-school idiots a chance to develop brains first.

  5. #5 PSH
    February 2, 2010

    How much longer will it be before huge lawsuits shut down college football programs? How much liability is the NFL facing? The days of American football are numbered. Based on recent data it’s not unlike big tobacco – football is literally killing people.

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