Elevated tau levels found in former athletes with history of concussions

Tau levels found in concussed former athletes may help predict who will ultimately suffer from long-term effects of blows to the brain, according to a new study published in Neurology.

Reuters reported on the study, which involved 22 male former pro athletes—many former Canadian Football League or pro hockey players—along with 12 volunteers diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and five healthy volunteers. All underwent lumbar punctures to test the tau levels in their cerebrospinal fluid along with cognitive testing and diffusion tensor imaging.

Among the former athletes, 12 of 22 had higher levels of tau compared to the healthy cohort, but lower than the Alzheimer’s patients, who had the highest levels. Higher tau levels resulted in poorer performances during cognitive testing and brain scan results, including white matter damage.

Results also showed that not all people who suffer multiple concussions end up with long-term brain damage, said co-author of the study Carmela Tartaglia, MD, of the Marion and Gerald Soloway Chair in Brain Injury and Concussion Research at the University of Toronto, to Reuters.

“Lots of people are exposed to repetitive head injury,” Tartaglia said. “But it definitely looks like not everybody gets this. We’re going to have to start looking very hard at what the difference is between the two groups.”

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