Smaller hits, not concussions, can cause CTE

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- New research out of Boston University's CTE Center suggests that smaller blows to one's head-hits that fail to register any symptoms of a concussion-can also or may be the cause of the neurodegenerative disease CTE.

CTE is a serious, degenerative brain condition that causes cognitive, mood and behavior impairments. When researchers compared the brains to those of four teenage athletes who had not suffered recent head trauma, they found that those brains did not have the same pathologies. "Our findings provide strong causal evidence linking head impact to [traumatic brain injury] and early CTE, independent of concussion", he stated.

The study's authors say about 20 percent of known cases of CTE had no record or report of concussion.

The researchers speculated that early CTE could result from damaged brain blood vessels that leak blood proteins into nearby tissue, causing inflammation of the brain. Analysis showed early-stage CTE in one and abnormal accumulation of tau in two others.

Dr. Lee Goldstein is a researcher at Boston University where he specializes in degenerative orders, specifically Alzheimer's disease - which shares numerous same symptoms as CTE.

Goldstein is concerned about athletes or parents of athletes who may develop a false sense of security about the CTE risk for players who've never been diagnosed with a concussion.

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Through brain scans, researchers did detect leaky blood vessels in the brains of those mice subjected to head impacted. "We were surprised that the brain pathology was unrelated to signs of concussion".

Goldstein also said that protections from brain trauma have been limited. They tested the hypothesis by exposing lab mice to two different triggers linked to CTE: repeated head impacts and blast exposures.

The Concussion Legacy Foundation has launched the Flag Football Under 14 program, which does exactly what it sounds like it does: advocates for athletes under the age of 14 to play flag football - or something else - and wait to try tackle football until reaching high school.

"It's kind of staggering to even think about this: A teenager with a neurogenerative disease", said Dr. Goldstein said that while the new work advanced understanding of the mechanisms underlying CTE, it's not clear how frequently people experience these types of changes in the brain. "[With] all of these people, we need to take the focus off concussion and find out if they have injured brains", Goldstein said, in an interview with NPR. Boston University led the study, and Cleveland Clinic, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and VA Boston Healthcare System scientists all contributed.

"There is no direct correlation whatsoever", Goldstein said of concussions.

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