Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Brain scans show unusual activity in retired American football players

Date:
October 17, 2013
Source:
Imperial College London
Summary:
A new study has discovered profound abnormalities in brain activity in a group of retired American football players. Although the former players in the study were not diagnosed with any neurological condition, brain imaging tests revealed unusual activity that correlated with how many times they had left the field with a head injury during their careers.

Areas of abnormal brain activity in NFL alumni.
Credit: Imperial College London

A new study has discovered profound abnormalities in brain activity in a group of retired American football players.

Although the former players in the study were not diagnosed with any neurological condition, brain imaging tests revealed unusual activity that correlated with how many times they had left the field with a head injury during their careers.

Previous research has found that former American football players experience higher rates of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. The new findings, published in Scientific Reports, suggest that players also face a risk of subtle neurological deficits that don't show up on normal clinical tests.

The study involved 13 former National Football League (NFL) professionals who believed they were suffering from neurological problems affecting their everyday lives as a consequence of their careers.

The former players and 60 healthy volunteers were given a test that involved rearranging coloured balls in a series of tubes in as few steps as possible. Their brain activity was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while they did the test.

The NFL group performed worse on the test than the healthy volunteers, but the difference was modest. More strikingly, the scans showed unusual patterns of brain activity in the frontal lobe. The difference between the two groups was so marked that a computer programme learned to distinguish NFL alumni and controls at close to 90 per cent accuracy based just on their frontal lobe activation patterns.

"The NFL alumni showed some of the most pronounced abnormalities in brain activity that I have ever seen, and I have processed a lot of patient data sets in the past," said Dr Adam Hampshire, lead author of the study, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London.

The frontal lobe is responsible for executive functions: higher-order brain activity that regulates other cognitive processes. The researchers think the differences seen in this study reflect deficits in executive function that might affect the person's ability to plan and organise their everyday lives.

"The critical fact is that the level of brain abnormality correlates strongly with the measure of head impacts of great enough severity to warrant being taken out of play. This means that it is highly likely that damage caused by blows to the head accumulate towards an executive impairment in later life."

Dr Hampshire and his colleagues at the University of Western Ontario, Canada suggest that fMRI could be used to reveal potential neurological problems in American football players that aren't picked up by standard clinical tests. Brain imaging results could be useful to retired players who are negotiating compensation for neurological problems that may be related to their careers. Players could also be scanned each season to detect problems early.

The findings also highlight the inadequacy of standard cognitive tests for detecting certain types of behavioural deficit.

"Researchers have put a lot of time into developing tests to pick up on executive dysfunction, but none of them work at all well. It's not unusual for an individual who has had a blow to the head to perform relatively well on a neuropsychological testing battery, and then go on to struggle in everyday life.

"The results tell us something very interesting about the human brain, which is that after damage, it can work harder and bring extra areas on line in order to cope with cognitive tasks. It is likely that in more complicated real world scenarios, this plasticity is insufficient and consequently, the executive impairment is no longer masked. In this respect, the results are also of relevance to other patients who suffer from multiple head injuries.

"Of course, this is a relatively preliminary study. We really need to test more players and to track players across seasons using brain imaging."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Imperial College London. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Adam Hampshire, Alex MacDonald, Adrian M. Owen. Hypoconnectivity and Hyperfrontality in Retired American Football Players. Scientific Reports, 2013; 3 DOI: 10.1038/srep02972

Cite This Page:

Imperial College London. "Brain scans show unusual activity in retired American football players." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 October 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131017093828.htm>.
Imperial College London. (2013, October 17). Brain scans show unusual activity in retired American football players. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131017093828.htm
Imperial College London. "Brain scans show unusual activity in retired American football players." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131017093828.htm (accessed October 20, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Monday, October 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) A new study says the season you're born in can determine your temperament — and one season has a surprising outcome. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Court Ruling Means Kids' Online Activity Could Be On Parents

Court Ruling Means Kids' Online Activity Could Be On Parents

Newsy (Oct. 17, 2014) In a ruling attorneys for both sides agreed was a first of its kind, a Georgia appeals court said parents can be held liable for what kids put online. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Best Foods To Boost Your Mood

The Best Foods To Boost Your Mood

Buzz60 (Oct. 17, 2014) Feeling down? Reach for the refrigerator, not the medicine cabinet! TC Newman (@PurpleTCNewman) shares some of the best foods to boost your mood. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
You Can Get Addicted To Google Glass, Apparently

You Can Get Addicted To Google Glass, Apparently

Newsy (Oct. 15, 2014) Researchers claim they’ve diagnosed the first example of the disorder in a 31-year-old U.S. Navy serviceman. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins