People who suffer from repetitive head injuries, such as those that occur during contact sports and military service, may experience an acceleration of aging in the brain and a heightened risk of developing early dementia, according to a new study by Boston University Medical Center.
When repetitive mild traumatic head injuries lead to an increase in the build-up of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, it is known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). This condition is known to increase the likelihood of dementia.
Some of the most severe cases have been seen in boxers and military veterans with a history of head injuries.
Although trauma has been suggested to increase beta-amyloid levels, the extent of deposition in CTE has still been unknown.
The study is the first to establish the deposition of beta-amyloid in CTE, and may lead to the development of diagnostic tools and treatments for the long lasting effects of head trauma.
For the study, researchers examined the brains of deceased athletes and military veterans with pathologically diagnosed CTE. They compared the number of individuals who developed clumps or deposits of beta-amyloid in the brain in this CTE group to a published group of normal individuals ages 1 to 100.
The findings showed that athletes and military veterans with CTE were four times more likely to develop beta-amyloid deposits in their brains and that, in general, this occurred 10-15 years earlier than in the normal aging group.
Furthermore, the investigators looked within the group of athletes and compared those subjects with beta-amyloid to those without. They found individuals with beta-amyloid deposits had worse disease and a worse decline in their thinking ability. Subjects with beta-amyloid were also more likely to have Parkinson’s-like pathology and symptoms.
“This study suggests that treatment for some forms of CTE will likely require targeting beta-amyloid, suggesting that in some cases treatments being developed for Alzheimer’s disease will also be helpful in CTE,” said corresponding author Thor Stein, M.D., Ph.D., of Boston University School of Medicine.
“It also provides further impetus for working to prevent concussions and sub-concussive hits in contact sports.”
The findings are published online in the journal Acta Neuropathologica.
Source: Boston University Medical Center