Researchers reveal new information on NFL players and concussions

January 29, 2015

Topic: concussions

Researchers from Johns Hopkins recently conducted a battery of tests on NFL players regarding their cognitive and neurological processing to discover why some of these athletes deal with memory issues after they experience a few concussions.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University recently conducted a battery of tests on National Football League players regarding their cognitive and neurological processing to discover why some of these athletes deal with memory issues after they experience a few concussions. These problems sometimes last several years after the injury.

The researchers examined nine players who all had sustained concussions at some point in their careers. The researchers believe their findings may help discover better treatment methods for future players. The results were published in the journal Neurobiology of Disease.

A common occurrence 
NFL players are not the only ones experiencing long-term brain damage. Several types of athletes, including soccer and hockey players, have spoken out about experiencing significant neurological damage after several concussions or head traumas. Yet past research has not figured out exactly what movement causes these types of permanent injuries to be sustained.

The researchers set out to discover the differences among these athletes by comparing the damage in their brains to the brains of people who did not have brain damage. They examined the brains of nine NFL players who had all retired and sustained more than one concussion in their careers.

All of the participants' brains were examined using a positron emission tomography scan. During this scan, a chemical is injected into the brain to help highlight a certain area or molecule. In this study, the researchers wanted to focus on the translocator protein, which is a strong indicator of the damage in the brain. A normal brain may have low amounts of this protein, but a damaged brain will have high amounts of it.

The journal Nature noted that this is not the first time the translocator protein has been focused on. Though this protein has several normal functions in the brain, it is also associated with brain inflammation. Past research has found that this protein may play a role in neurological and psychological disorders and may help scientists find better treatments for these medical problems.

A significant amount of damage
The group also underwent magnetic resonance imaging scans and took a series of memory tests. The group of participants who had not experienced any concussions had no brain damage. However, many of the NFL players had damage in several parts of their brain, including the amygdala, a part of the brain associated with emotions. Other areas that are correlated with a person's verbal memory were also damaged.

The hippocampus, which is the main part of the brain associated with memory, did not show significant damage. However, it did appear to be slightly weaker on its right side. The researchers believe the hippocampus looked this way because it had been damaged a long time ago and subsequently shrunk.

The study authors believe their findings are very interesting and suggest that not only do players deal with damage directly after an injury, but they also experience neurological changes in the topography of the brain several years later, meaning these concussions have a permanent effect on a person's brain.

The researchers have decided to continue to focus on the translocator protein in brains of current and former NFL players. They believe that comparing the two groups will determine exactly when the largest changes occur in the brain.

The study authors believe that if they conduct a secondary study with a larger group of participants, they may be able to determine what happens directly after a concussion and what occurs years later. Understanding this progression will help lead to better prevention and treatment methods for players involved in several different types of sports. 

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