Chronic traumatic encephalopathy

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Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy
Classification and external resources
Specialty Neurology, sports medicine
eMedicine sports/

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a form of tauopathy, is a progressive degenerative disease found in people who have suffered a severe blow to the head. The disease was previously called dementia pugilistica (DP), i.e. "punch-drunk", as it was initially found in those with a history of boxing. CTE has been most commonly found in professional athletes participating in American football, association football, ice hockey, professional wrestling, stunt performing, bull riding, bicycle motocross, rodeo, and other contact sports who have experienced repeated concussions or other brain trauma. Its presence in domestic violence victims is also being investigated. Generally it does not affect high school players and it is uncommon among collegiate players.

Individuals with CTE may show symptoms of dementia, such as memory loss, aggression, confusion and depression, which may appear years or many decades after the trauma. In the case of blast injury, a single exposure to a blast and the subsequent violent movement of the head in the blast wind can cause the condition.[1]

In September 2015, researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University announced that they had identified CTE in 87 of 91 (96 percent) deceased NFL players that they had examined and in 79 percent of all football players.[2]

Signs and symptoms[edit]

Symptoms of CTE generally begin 8–10 years after experiencing repetitive mild traumatic brain injury.[3] First stage symptoms include deterioration in attention as well as disorientation, dizziness and headaches. Further disabilities appear with progressive deterioration, including memory loss, social instability, erratic behavior, and poor judgment. Third and fourth stages include progressive dementia, slowing of muscular movements, hypomimia, impeded speech, tremors, vertigo, deafness, and suicidality. Additional symptoms include dysarthria, dysphagia, ocular abnormalities, such as ptosis.[4]

Currently, CTE can only be definitively diagnosed by direct tissue examination, including full autopsies and immunohistochemical brain analyses.[5]

The neuropathological appearance of CTE is distinguished from other tauopathies, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The four clinical stages of observable CTE disability have been correlated with tau pathology in brain tissue, ranging in severity from focal perivascular epicentres of neurofibrillary tangles in the frontal neocortex to severe tauopathy affecting widespread brain regions.[6]

Research performed at the Cleveland Clinic and at the University of Rochester[7] has shown that sub-concussive head hits also produce measurable changes in athletes' MRI. The MRI changes reported in this study were causally related to the presence in serum of players of auto-antibodies against the brain protein S100B.[8] These auto-antibodies may be pathogenic as shown for example in epileptic human brain.[9]


The primary physical manifestations of CTE include a reduction in brain weight, associated with atrophy of the frontal and temporal cortices and medial temporal lobe. The lateral ventricles and the third ventricle are often enlarged, with rare instances of dilation of the fourth ventricle.[10] Other physical manifestations of CTE include anterior cavum septi pellucidi and posterior fenestrations, pallor of the substantia nigra and locus ceruleus, and atrophy of the olfactory bulbs, thalamus, mammillary bodies, brainstem and cerebellum.[11] As CTE progresses, there may be marked atrophy of the hippocampus, entorhinal cortex, and amygdala.[3]

On a microscopic scale the pathology includes neuronal loss, tau deposition, TAR DNA-binding Protein 43 (TDP 43)[6] beta-amyloid deposition, white matter changes, and other abnormalities. The tau deposition occurs as dense neurofibrillary tangles (NFT), neurites, and glial tangles, which are made up of astrocytes and other glial cells[10] Beta-amyloid deposition is a relatively uncommon feature of CTE.

A small group of individuals with CTE have chronic traumatic encephalomyopathy (CTEM), characterized by motor neuron disease symptoms and mimics Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Progressive muscle weakness and balance and gait problems seem to be early signs of CTEM.[10]

In March 2014, researchers announced the discovery of an exosome particle created by the brain which has been shown to contain trace proteins indicating the presence of the disease.[12]


The lack of in-vivo techniques to show distinct biomarkers for CTE is the reason CTE cannot currently be diagnosed during lifetime. The only known diagnosis for CTE occurs by studying the brain tissue after death. Concussions are non-structural injuries and do not result in brain bleeding, which is why most concussions cannot be seen on routine neuroimaging tests such as CT or MRI.[13] Acute concussion symptoms (those that occur shortly after an injury) should not be confused with CTE. Differentiating between prolonged post-concussion syndrome (PCS, where symptoms begin shortly after a concussion and last for weeks, months, and sometimes even years) and CTE symptoms can be difficult. Research studies are currently examining whether neuroimaging can detect subtle changes in axonal integrity and structural lesions that can occur in CTE.[3] Recently, more progress in in-vivo diagnostic techniques for CTE has been made, using DTI, fMRI, MRI, and MRS imaging; however, more research needs to be done before any such techniques can be validated.[10]

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) using a newly developed radiopharmaceutical [18F]FDDNP is being investigated as a tool to allow in-vivo diagnosis of CTE.[14] In late 2013, breaking research was completed by the University of California Los Angeles in which, for the first time ever, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy was reportedly found in living-retired National Football League players. Prior to this breakthrough study conducted by UCLA, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy could only be found posthumously through autopsies of diseased athletes, however, this study found the brain disease in numerous living athletes. The scan lit up for tau in all five former players, according to the study. The protein was concentrated in areas that control memory, emotions and other functions—a pattern consistent with the distribution of tau in CTE brains that have been studied following autopsy, according to the researchers. A small study of 5 patients has been reported to show accumulation of tau protein in the brains of suspected CTE patients seen on PET scan.[15] This finding is also noted in a number of other dementing disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, Pick's disease, progressive supranuclear palsy, corticobasal degeneration and familial frontotemporal dementia and Parkinsonism linked to chromosome abnormality.[16] At the current time PET scanning is not widely used in screening due to the perceived high cost of the study.[17]

A putative biomarker for CTE is the presence in serum of auto-antibodies against the brain. These may enter the brain by means of a disrupted blood-brain barrier, and attack neuronal cells which are normally protected from an immune onslaught.[18] Given the large numbers of neurons present in the brain, and considering the poor penetration of antibodies across a normal blood-brain barrier, there is an extended period of time between the initial events (head hits) and the development of any signs or symptoms. Nevertheless, autoimmune changes in blood of players may consist the earliest measurable event predicting CTE.

Robert A. Stern, one of the scientists at the Boston University CTE Center,[19] said in 2015 that "he expected a test to be developed within a decade that will be able to diagnose C.T.E. in living people".[20]


Investigators have demonstrated that immobilizing the head during a blast exposure prevented the learning and memory deficits associated with CTE that occurred when the head was not immobilized. This research represents the first case series of postmortem brains from U.S. military personnel who were exposed to a blast and/or a concussive injury.[1] However, the protein tau which binds microtubules of brain axons, was found to have an elastic limit which is speed dependent; when breached, the microtubules become undone and cause brain swellings due to backups of information transport.[21]


Professional level athletes are the largest demographic to suffer from CTE due to frequent concussions from play in contact-sport.[22] These contact-sports include American football, ice hockey, rugby, boxing, soccer, and wrestling.[23] Other individuals that have been diagnosed with CTE were involved in military service, had a previous history of chronic seizures, victims of domestic abuse, and or were involved in activities resulting in repetitive head collisions.[24]


CTE was first recognized as affecting individuals who took considerable blows to the head, but was believed to be confined to boxers and not other athletes.[25] In the early 2000s neuropathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu worked on the case of football player Mike Webster, who had died following unusual and unexplained behaviour. In 2005 Omalu, along with colleagues in the Department of Pathology at the University of Pittsburgh, published his findings in the journal Neurosurgery in a paper which he titled "Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in a National Football League Player." This was followed by a paper on a second case in 2006 describing similar pathology.

In 2008, the Sports Legacy Institute joined with the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) to form the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE).[26] Brain Injury Research Institute (BIRI) also studies the impact of concussions.[27][28]

American football[edit]

Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist and neuropathologist in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, found CTE in the brains of Mike Webster, Terry Long, Andre Waters, Justin Strzelczyk, and Tom McHale.[28] Omalu, in 2012 a medical examiner, then associate adjunct professor in California, was a co-founder of the Brain Injury Research Institute [28] and reportedly in 2012 participated in the autopsy of Junior Seau.[27] Omalu's participation was halted during the autopsy after Junior Seau's son revoked previously provided oral permission after he received telephone calls from NFL management denouncing Omalu's professional ethics, qualifications, and motivation.[29]

Between 2008 and 2010, the bodies of twelve former professional American football players underwent postmortem evaluations for CTE, and all of them showed evidence of the disease.[30]

On December 1, 2012, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend and drove to Arrowhead Stadium and killed himself in front of then GM Scott Pioli and then head coach Romeo Crennel. A year later, a family lawyer filed a wrongful death lawsuit, on behalf of Belcher's minor daughter, against the Chiefs alleging the team deliberately ignored warning signs of CTE, possibly leading to his suicide. The lawyer also hired a medical examiner to examine Belcher's brain for signs of CTE. On September 29, 2014, it was confirmed that he suffered from CTE.[31]

As of December 2012, thirty-three former National Football League (NFL) players had been diagnosed post-mortem with CTE. Former Detroit Lions lineman and eight-time Pro Bowler Lou Creekmur,[32] former Houston Oilers and Miami Dolphins linebacker John Grimsley,[33] former Tampa Bay Buccaneers guard Tom McHale,[34] former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry,[35] and former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson,[36] have all been diagnosed post-mortem with CTE. Other football players diagnosed with CTE include former Buffalo Bills star running back Cookie Gilchrist[37] and Wally Hilgenberg.,[38] among others.

An autopsy conducted in 2010 on the brain of Owen Thomas, a 21-year-old junior lineman at the University of Pennsylvania who committed suicide, showed early stages of CTE, making him the second youngest person to be diagnosed with the condition. Thomas was the second amateur football player diagnosed with CTE, after Mike Borich, who died at 42.[39] The doctors who performed the autopsy indicated that they found no causal connection between the nascent CTE and Thomas's suicide. There were no records of Thomas missing any playing time due to concussion, but as a player who played hard and "loved to hit people," Thomas may have played through concussions and received thousands of subconcussive impacts on the brain.[40]

In October 2010, 17-year-old Nathan Stiles died hours after his high school homecoming football game, where he took a hit that would be the final straw in a series of subconcussive and concussive blows to the head for the highschooler. The CSTE diagnosed him with CTE, making him the youngest reported CTE case to date.[41]

In July, 2011, Colt tight end John Mackey died after several years of deepening symptoms of frontotemporal dementia. BUSM was reported to be planning to examine his brain for signs of CTE.[42] The CSTE found CTE in his brain post-mortem.[43]

In 2012, retired NFL player Junior Seau committed suicide with a gunshot wound to the chest.[44] There was speculation that he suffered brain damage due to CTE.[27][45][46][47][48] Seau's family donated his brain tissue to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.[49] On January 10, 2013, the brain pathology report was revealed and Seau did have evidence of CTE.[50]

On July 27, 2012, an autopsy report concluded that the former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling, who committed suicide in April 2012, had CTE.[51][52]

The NFL has taken measures to help prevent CTE. As of July 2011, the NFL has changed its return-to-play rules.[citation needed] The number of contact practices has been reduced, based on the recent collective bargaining agreement [clarification needed].[53]

In 2012, some four thousand former NFL players "joined civil lawsuits against the League, seeking damages over the League’s failure to protect players from concussions, according to Judy Battista of the [New York] Times".[54]

On August 30, 2013, the NFL reached a $765 million settlement with the former NFL players over the head injuries.[55] The settlement created a $675 million compensation fund from which former NFL players can collect depending on the extent of their conditions. Severe conditions such as Lou Gehrig's disease and postmortem diagnosed chronic traumatic encephalopathy would be entitled to payouts as high as $5 million.[55] From the remainder of the settlement, $75 million will be used for medical exams, and $10 million will be used for research and education.[55] However, in January, 2014, U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody refused to accept the agreed settlement because "the money wouldn't adequately compensate the nearly 20,000 men not named in the suit".[56] In the settlement Brody did accept, she argued that people "cannot be compensated for C.T.E. in life because no diagnostic or clinical profile of C.T.E. exists, and the symptoms of the disease, if any, are unknown".[20]

On April 22, 2015 a final settlement was reached between players and the NFL in the case adjudicated by Judge Brody. Terms include payments to be made by the NFL for $75 million for "baseline medical exams" for retired players, $10 million for research and education, as well an uncapped amount for retirees "who can demonstrate that they suffer from one of several brain conditions covered by the agreement", with total payments expected to exceed $1 billion over 65 years.[57]

In September 2015, researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University announced that they had identified CTE in 96 percent of NFL players that they had examined and in 79 percent of all football players.[2]

On January 26, 2016, an autopsy report released by the family of former New York Giants safety Tyler Sash confirmed that Sash was suffering from CTE at the time of his death at age 27 in September 2015.[58]

On February 4, 2016, an autopsy report from Massachusetts confirmed discovered high Stage 3 chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in Stabler's brain after his death.[59]

Early retirements[edit]

In the 2015 off-season, a number of NFL players retired early with concussion- and other health-risk as express or possible motive. The youngest, in March, Chris Borland, 24, would have been entering his second year in the league after a third-round draft out of University of Wisconsin and a "stellar" rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers.[60] Explaining his decision to ESPN, Borland said "I just honestly want to do what's best for my health. ... From what I've researched and what I've experienced, I don't think it's worth the risk."[61]

Patrick Willis, a seven-time All-Pro linebacker also with the 49ers, [had previously] announced that he was retiring rather than risk further injury. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan of the St. Louis Rams, quarterback Jake Locker of the Tennessee Titans and linebacker Jason Worilds of the Pittsburgh Steelers have all retired this off-season as well. ... Worilds, who was paid $9.75 million by the Steelers in 2014, was expected to sign a big contract with another team as a free agent. [Borland] won Rookie of the Week honors twice and was Defensive Rookie of the Month in November [in 2014]. He earned the league-minimum $420,000 and a bonus of $154,000, according to[60]

ESPN noted that four of the retirees—Borland, Willis, Locker and Worilds—were under 30 years of age and that Borland had replaced Willis during the season due to a Willis toe injury and had been expected to replace him in the coming year. It also recounted Borland's course of decision from a possible concussion he "played through" in training camp as he was trying to make the team to the post-season decision. He said in making his decision he'd "read about Mike Webster and Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling"—two of them suicides, all, per ESPN, "diagnosed with the devastating brain disease Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, after their deaths"—and he had talked to "prominent concussion researchers and former players" after the season.[61]

Ice hockey[edit]

Athletes from other sports have also been identified as having CTE, such as hockey player Bob Probert.[62] Neuropathologists at Boston University diagnosed Reg Fleming as the first hockey player known to have the disease. This discovery was announced in December 2009, six months after Fleming's death.[63]

Rick Martin, best known for being part of the Buffalo Sabres' French Connection, was diagnosed with CTE after his brain was posthumously analyzed.[64] Martin was the first documented case of an ice hockey player not known as an enforcer to have developed CTE; Martin was believed to have developed the disease primarily as a result of a severe concussion he suffered in 1977 while not wearing a helmet. The disease was low-grade and asymptomatic in his case, not affecting his cognitive functions. He died of a heart attack in March 2011 at the age of 59.[65]

Also within a few months in 2011, the deaths of three hockey "enforcers"Derek Boogaard from a combination of too many painkillers and alcohol, Rick Rypien, an apparent suicide, and Wade Belak, who, like Rypien, had reportedly suffered from depression; and all with a record of fighting, blows to the head and concussions—led to more concerns about CTE. Boogaard's brain was examined by BUSM, which in October 2011 determined the presence of CTE.[66] One National Hockey League player known in part for leading "the thump parade", former Boston Bruin and current Florida Panthers right winger Shawn Thornton mulled over the "tragic coincidence" of the three recent league deaths and agreed that their deaths were due to the same cause, yet still defended the role of fighting on the rink.[67]

Professional wrestling[edit]

In 2007, neuropathologists from the Sports Legacy Institute (an organization co-founded by Christopher Nowinski, himself a former professional wrestler) examined the brain of Chris Benoit, a professional wrestler with the WWE, who had apparently killed his wife and son before committing suicide. The suicide and double murder were originally attributed to anabolic steroid abuse, but a brain biopsy confirmed pathognomonic CTE tissue changes: large aggregations of tau protein as manifested by neurofibrillary tangles and neuropil threads, which cause neurodegeneration.[68][69]

In 2009, Bennet Omalu discovered CTE in recently retired wrestler Andrew "Test" Martin, who died at age 33 from an accidental medicine overdose.[70]

Mixed martial arts[edit]

It is believed that former MMA Fighters Gary Goodridge and James Leahy suffer from CTE, as a result of repeated head trauma from their fighting careers. Delayed onset is becoming increasingly common as with Leahy, whose symptoms developed many years post any sporting activity.[71]

Association football[edit]

In 2012, Patrick Grange a semi-professional footballer, was diagnosed in an autopsy with Stage 2 CTE with motor neuron disease. "The fact that Patrick Grange was a prolific header is important," Christopher Nowinski, co-founder of the Sports Legacy Institute, said in an e-mail. "We need a larger discussion around at what age we introduce headers, and how we set limits to exposure once it is introduced."[72] Grange played football at high school; college at Illinois-Chicago and New Mexico; in the Premier Development League; for Albuquerque Asylum and Chicago Fire Premier. He died of ALS at age 29 in 2012 with a posthumous diagnosis of CTE.[73]

In 2014, Brazilian footballer Bellini was posthumously diagnosed with CTE. Bellini, along with Pelé, led Brazil to FIFA World Cup victories in 1958 and 1962.[74]


Researchers found Australian rugby union player Barry "Tizza" Taylor died in 2013 of complications of severe CTE with dementia at age 77. Taylor played for 19 years in amateur and senior leagues before becoming a coach.[72]

In 2013, Dr Willie Stewart, Consultant Neuropathologist at the Institute of Neurological Sciences at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, identified CTE in the brain of a former amateur rugby player in his 50s which is believed to be the first confirmed case of early onset dementia caused by CTE in a rugby player.[75]

Australian Rules Football[edit]

Australian Rules Football Player Greg Williams (Australian footballer) is thought to have CTE as a result of concussions over a 250-game career.[76]

Major League Baseball[edit]

In 2012, the brain tissue of Ryan Freel was tested after his death. It was found that he had Stage 2 CTE. Freel was the first Major League Baseball player to be diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy.[77]


In 2005 forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu, along with colleagues in the Department of Pathology at the University of Pittsburgh, published a paper, "Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in a National Football League Player," in the journal Neurosurgery, based on analysis of the brain of deceased former NFL center Mike Webster. This was the followed by a paper on a second case in 2006 describing similar pathology, based on findings in the brain of former NFL player Terry Long.

In 2008, the CSTE at Boston University at the BU School of Medicine started the CSTE brain bank at the Bedford VA Hospital to analyze the effects of CTE and other neurodegenerative diseases on the brain and spinal cord of athletes, military veterans, and civilians[6] To date the CSTE Brain Bank is the largest CTE tissue repository in the world.[10] On December 21, 2009, the National Football League Players Association announced that it would collaborate with the CSTE at the Boston University School of Medicine to support the Center's study of repetitive brain trauma in athletes.[78] Additionally, in 2010 the National Football League gave the CSTE a $1 million gift with no strings attached.[79][80] In 2008, twelve living athletes (active and retired), including hockey players Pat LaFontaine and Noah Welch as well as former NFL star Ted Johnson, committed to donate their brains to CSTE after their deaths.[26][81] In 2009, NFL Pro Bowlers Matt Birk, Lofa Tatupu, and Sean Morey pledged to donate their brains to the CSTE.[82] In 2010, 20 more NFL players and former players pledged to join the CSTE Brain Donation Registry, including Chicago Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, Hall of Famer Mike Haynes, Pro Bowlers Zach Thomas, Kyle Turley, and Conrad Dobler, Super Bowl Champion Don Hasselbeck and former pro players Lew Carpenter, and Todd Hendricks . In 2010, Professional Wrestlers Mick Foley, Booker T and Matt Morgan also agreed to donate their brains upon their deaths. Also in 2010, MLS player Taylor Twellman, who had to retire from the New England Revolution because of post-concussion symptoms, agreed to donate his brain upon his death. As of 2010, the CSTE Brain Donation Registry consists of over 250 current and former athletes.[83] In 2011, former North Queensland Cowboys player Shaun Valentine became the first rugby player to agree to donate his brain upon his death, in response to recent concerns about the effects of concussions on Rugby League players, who do not use helmets. Also in 2011, boxer Micky Ward, whose career inspired the film The Fighter, agreed to donate his brain upon his death.

In related research, the Center for the Study of Retired Athletes, which is part of the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is conducting research funded by National Football League Charities to "study former football players, a population with a high prevalence of exposure to prior Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) and sub-concussive impacts, in order to investigate the association between increased football exposure and recurrent MTBI and neurodegenerative disorders such as cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease (AD)".[84]

In February 2011, Dave Duerson committed suicide,[48] leaving text messages to loved ones asking that his brain be donated to research for CTE.[85] The family got in touch with representatives of the Boston University center studying the condition, said Robert Stern, the co-director of the research group. Stern said Duerson's was the first time he was aware of that such a request had been left by a suicide potentially linked to CTE.[86] Stern and his colleagues found high levels of the protein tau in Duerson's brain. These elevated levels, which were abnormally clumped and pooled along the brain sulci,[6] are indicative of CTE.[36]

In July 2010, NHL enforcer Bob Probert died of heart failure. Before his death, he asked his wife to donate his brain to CTE research because it was noticed that Probert experienced a mental decline in his 40s. In March 2011, researchers at Boston University concluded that Probert had CTE upon analysis of the brain tissue he donated. He is the second NHL player from the program at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy to be diagnosed with CTE postmortem.[87]

BUSM has also found indications of links between Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and CTE in athletes who have participated in contact sports. Tissue for the study was donated by twelve athletes and their families to the CSTE Brain Bank at the Bedford, Massachusetts VA Medical Center.[88]

Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic have shown auto-antibodies directed against the brain of players who experience a large number of head hits but no concussions, suggesting that even sub-concussive episodes may be damaging to the brain.[7]

In 2013, President Barack Obama announced the creation of the Chronic Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium or CENC, a federally funded research project devised to address the long-term effects of mild traumatic brain injury in military service personnel (SMs) and Veterans.[89][90][91] After a competitive application process, a consortium led by Virginia Commonwealth University prevailed and was announced as the recipient of the award by President Obama on August 20, 2013.[92][93][94][95][96][97] At the time of the award, this was the single largest grant ever awarded to Virginia Commonwealth University.[94] Nearly 20% of the more than 2.5 million U.S. Service Members (SMs) deployed since 2003 to Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) have sustained at least one traumatic brain injury (TBI), predominantly mild TBI (mTBI),[98][99] and almost 8% of all OEF/OIF Veterans demonstrate persistent post-TBI symptoms more than six months post-injury.[100][101] Unlike those head injuries incurred in most sporting events, recent military head injuries are most often the result of blast wave exposure. Explosive munitions, predominantly improvised explosive device’ (IEDs), have caused the overwhelming majority of these identified cases. The incidence is likely even significantly higher than reported, as many mTBIs may go unrecognized during and even after deployment because of more visible concomitant injuries capturing greater attention, clinicians’ limited awareness of the often subtle initial findings, and patients’ reduced subjective awareness related to cognitive deficits in the acute period.[102] The mission of the CENC is to fill the gaps in knowledge about the basic science of mild TBI (also termed concussion), to determine its effects on late-life outcomes and neurodegeneration, to identify service members most susceptible to these effects, and to identify the most effective treatment strategies.[92][93][94][103] The CENC is a multi-center collaboration linking premiere basic science, translational, and clinical neuroscience researchers from the DoD, VA, academic universities, and private research institutes to effectively address the scientific, diagnostic, and therapeutic ramifications of mild TBI and its long-term effects.[94][95][96][97][104] The CENC serves as the comprehensive research network for DoD and VA that focuses on the long-term effects of combat-related and military-relevant TBI.[97] The CENC is designed to conduct research that provides clinically relevant answers and interventions for current service members and Veterans and to develop the long-term solutions to the chronic effects of TBI. The CENC is identifying and characterizing the anatomic, molecular, and physiological mechanisms of chronic injury from TBI and potential neurodegeneration, investigating the relationship of comorbidities (psychological, neurological, sensory, motor, pain, cognitive, neuroendocrine) of trauma and combat-exposure to TBI with neurodegeneration, and assessing the efficacy of existing and novel treatment and rehabilitation strategies for chronic effects and neurodegeneration following TBI.[103] The project principal investigator for the CENC is David Cifu, Chairman and Herman J. Flax professor[105] of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, Virginia, Staff Physiatrist at the Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Administration Medical Center (HHM-VAMC),[106] Founding Director of the VCU-Center for Rehabilitation Science and Engineering[107] and National Director of PM&R Services in the Department of Veterans Affairs' Veterans Health Administration.[93][94][95][108][109] Project co-principal investigators are Ramon Diaz-Arrastia, Professor of Neurology, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, and Director of Clinical Research at the Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine (CNRM),[97] and Rick L. Williams, statistician at RTI International and a Fellow of the American Statistical Association.[104]

Like all scientific theories, the hypothesis that repeated concussion or subconcussive impacts cause CTE cannot be definitively proven. To date no scientific evidence has been shown to falsify the hypothesis, while a rapidly growing body of evidence from postmortem and epidemiological studies conducted at major researcher institutions and the National Football League supports it.[110]

Some researchers have argued that prospective longitudinal studies employing the scientific method are needed to provide adequate confirmation for the hypothesis that repeated concussion or subconcussive impacts cause CTE. [111]

As of September 2015, the CSTE had diagnosed CTE in 96% of NFL players analyzed in postmortem brain studies.[112]

Notable cases[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

On December 7, 2011, the television show "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" aired the episode 'Spiraling Down,' which featured a character suffering from CTE.

On October 8, 2013, PBS aired an episode of its Frontline documentary television series concerning CTE and the NFL.[118] The episode was re-aired in December 2015 with additional updated information.

Concussion is a 2015 film starring Will Smith dramatizing the efforts of Bennet Omalu's fight against the NFL's efforts to suppress his research on the brain damage suffered by professional football players.


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