Absent signs of cognitive decline or functional psychological falloff, retired contact-sport athletes can be helpfully but perhaps not definitively imaged for neurometabolite markers of concussion with MR spectroscopy, as the modality has performed with modest sensitivity in a preliminary study.
The study was published online Feb. 13 in the International Journal of Sports Medicine.
Lead author Andrew Gardner, PhD, of the University of Newcastle, Australia, and colleagues enrolled 16 retired professional rugby players from 30 to 45 years old who had an extensive history of concussion.
The researchers matched the “ruggers” with 16 age- and education-matched controls who had no history of neurotrauma or of participation in contact sports.
All participants completed a clinical interview, psychological and cognitive testing, and all were imaged with MR spectroscopy.
The team found the former ruggers had significantly lower concentrations of grey matter glutathione (p=0.02, d=0.91), although the athletes did not significantly differ in concentrations of any other neurometabolites.
Meanwhile there were no significant differences between the two groups on measures of depression, anxiety and cognitive functioning.
Interestingly, the retired athletes reported significantly greater alcohol use and had worse manual dexterity using their non-dominant hand.
The authors conclude that their preliminary findings suggest that MR spectroscopy “might be modestly sensitive to biochemical differences in athletes after their athletic careers have ended in the absence of clinical differences in cognitive performance and self-reported psychological functioning.”