Editors' ChoiceBRAIN INJURY

Losing Brain

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Science Translational Medicine  21 May 2014:
Vol. 6, Issue 237, pp. 237ec90
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3009313

The hippocampus, a brain region involved in regulating numerous cognitive processes, may be negatively affected by concussions commonly sustained by football players.

In this cross-sectional study, researchers conducted magnetic resonance imaging to quantify brain volume on three groups of patients (n = 25 for each group): current college football players with and without a history of concussion, and age- and education-matched non–football-playing healthy controls. Both groups of football players had significantly smaller hippocampal volumes than did non–football-players [mean difference 1788 µL; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1317 to 2258 µL); players with a history of concussion had significantly smaller hippocampal volumes than those of players without concussions (mean difference 761 µL; 95% CI 280 to 1242). In all football players, there was a significant inverse relationship between hippocampal volume and the number of self-reported years of football played. Although there were no differences measured between concussed and nonconcussed players on cognitive testing, more years of playing football were correlated with a decreased reaction time.

The cross-sectional design of this study does not allow inferences about causality. Nevertheless, the demonstrated relationship between hippocampal brain volume and years of football play and concussion is consistent with the hypothesis that brain injuries sustained in football have an effect on hippocampal volume—and potentially, on brain function. These results add to the accumulating concern about long-term negative effects of football play on the brain.

R. Singh et al., Relationship of collegiate football experience and concussion with hippocampal volume and cognitive outcomes. JAMA 10.1001./jama.2014.3313 (2014). [Abstract]

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