Series from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette on CTE

Mark Roth of the Pittsburgh Post-Gaette put together an informational series on chronic traumatic encephalopathy; “a brain disease that afflicts athletes”.

In the first part that came out this past Sunday, Roth took a look at the global perception of CTE through the examples of Chris Henry and the possible case of still living Fred McNeill;

Chris Henry was a fleet wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals. During his five seasons with the team, he developed a reputation as a talented athlete on the field but a bad boy off it, even though those who knew him well say he was typically quiet and respectful. […]

Fred McNeill played 12 seasons for the Minnesota Vikings in the ’70s and ’80s. After retiring, he finished law school and became a successful attorney in Minneapolis, helping to win major class-action lawsuits.

Henry would end up dead after an accident that was predicated with some unusual actions by him, McNeill now has full-time care takers as dementia has stripped him of everything he worked hard for.

Roth begins the second piece with those that can be easily called the experts in this area, Bennet Omalu and Ann McKee;

What he [Omalu] saw were smudges and tangles of tau deposits in the brain, similar to those that would be seen in Alzheimer’s disease, but without the accompanying plaques of beta amyloid protein also seen in Alzheimer’s. He later named the disorder chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which simply means a long-developing brain injury.

Around the same time, another pathologist, Ann McKee, was amazed at a brain she was examining in her lab outside Boston.

As you know, detecting CTE has proven nil in the living, it has only be detected posthumously but it does not mean people are not trying feverishly to change that;

Gary Small, a psychiatrist at the University of California at Los Angeles, hopes to change that with a new test that uses a radioactively tagged tracer to detect tau deposits in living brains.

In a February study of five former National Football League players and five control subjects, the positron emission tomography, or PET, scans showed that the former NFL players had higher levels of deposits in subsurface brain regions and the amygdala, an almond shaped structure that governs emotions like fear and anger.

The UCLA tracer attaches to both tau and beta amyloid proteins, which are found together in Alzheimer’s disease, but Dr. Small said the pattern of deposits is different than in Alzheimer’s.

The study is too small to draw definitive conclusions, but he hopes to study a much larger group as soon as he can arrange funding.

Later in the second article Roth: discusses blast injuries for soldiers and the relation, examines the origin of CTE (pugalistica dementia), and how to even tackle the treatment of this brain issue.

The final piece of this series looks into the “lynchpin” of CTE and NFL, Mike Webster of the Pittsburgh Steelers;

Garrett Webster still remembers the incident because it was so out of character for his dad.

His father, former Steelers center Mike Webster, had come to his elementary school to pick him up, and a woman drove through the school zone too fast, “and my dad chased her in the car, and got out of the car and started hitting her hood and yelling at her, and then he got in the car and drove away.” […]

Pamela Webster, Mike’s wife at the time, saw a different but equally startling change. Her husband, who had always celebrated Christmas like an overgrown kid, now spent Christmas mornings sitting in a corner, “just observing. The kids would bring him presents, and he would just sit there. You saw parts of this man disappear, but you couldn’t put your finger on it.”

A very thorough and interesting work on chronic traumatic encephalopathy by Roth.  If you are searching for more information on the issue this would a be a good place to read up on the information.  It should be noted that there has been zero causation shown, to this point, between concussions and CTE.  The signs are there and most logical people could assume that A+B=C, but we need to be careful and let the science play its way out.  There are millions of people across this planet that have played in collision sports or experienced mild brain trauma in a repetitive fashion, we have yet to make the exact causation.
To put it another way all people diagnosed with CTE have been hit in head many times, but not all people that have been hit in head many times have CTE.
I still firmly believe that proper treatment and management of each concussion/mTBI can lessen and even eliminate this problem in the long-term.  Only time will tell, unfortunately for some there is not enough of that left.

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