Functionally-detected cognitive impairment in high school football players without clinically-diagnosed concussion

J Neurotrauma. 2014 Feb;


Talavage, T. M., E. A. Nauman, E. L. Breedlove, U. Yoruk, A. E. Dye, K. E. Morigaki, H. Feuer and L. J. Leverenz.



Head trauma and concussion in football players have recently received considerable media attention. Postmortem evidence suggests that accrual of damage to the brain may occur with repeated blows to the head, even when the individual blows fail to produce clinical symptoms. There is an urgent need for improved detection and characterization of head trauma to reduce future injury risk and promote development of new therapies. In this study we examined neurological performance and health in the presence of head collision events in high school football players, using longitudinal measures of collision events (the HIT() System), neurocognitive testing (ImPACT()), and functional magnetic resonance imaging MRI (fMRI). Longitudinal assessment (including baseline) was conducted in 11 young men (ages 15-19 years) participating on the varsity and junior varsity football teams at a single high school. We expected and observed subjects in two previously described categories: (1) no clinically-diagnosed concussion and no changes in neurological behavior, and (2) clinically-diagnosed concussion with changes in neurological behavior. Additionally, we observed players in a previously undiscovered third category, who exhibited no clinically-observed symptoms associated with concussion, but who demonstrated measurable neurocognitive (primarily visual working memory) and neurophysiological (altered activation in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex [DLPFC]) impairments. This new category was associated with significantly higher numbers of head collision events to the top-front of the head, directly above the DLPFC. The discovery of this new category suggests that more players are suffering neurological injury than are currently being detected using traditional concussion-assessment tools. These individuals are unlikely to undergo clinical evaluation, and thus may continue to participate in football-related activities, even when changes in brain physiology (and potential brain damage) are present, which will increase the risk of future neurological injury.

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