Most people are aware of traumatic brain injuries which may kill or permanently impair the victim after a hard blow to the head, as occurs in motor vehicle accidents and falls. What is less known is the impact of more minor head injuries, such as happens to teens and college students playing sports. Professional football players and boxers, whose careers revolve around constant head blows, often show signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Unfortunately, a definite diagnosis of CTE requires an autopsy. The length of time and the number of hits to the head needed to trigger CTE is still unknown, but studies are showing the problem is more severe than previously believed.
Young Athletes at Risk
A study published in the February, 2018 edition of Brain, A Journal of Neurology, was borne out of the tragic deaths of four young male athletes in Boston. Two of the teenagers committed suicide not long after suffering a head injury, while the other two probably died from the little-known but deadly “second-impact syndrome.” This fatal condition occurs when a second blow to the head happens not long after a primary concussion. In the case of the suicide victims, it is not known if their head injuries were a contributory factor in their deaths, but the injuries themselves were not enough to kill them.
When the teenagers’ brains were examined, scientists found them far more damaged than expected. In all four, the blood-brain barrier, a natural defense against harmful substances entering the brain, was breached, and small blood vessels in the brain had leaked. In two of the teens, there were already tau proteins – indicative of CTE – near these broken blood vessels, and one teen’s brain was already in Stage 1 of CTE. Never before had researchers found evidence of CTE in such young people and in such recent brain injuries.
Of Mice and CTE
To gather more information about how these hits to the head effected the young men’s brains, researchers turned to a mouse model. Using young male mice, scientists applied light jolts to the head, so that the mice would jerk their heads violently. This mimics the actions of football players and similar sports-related head injuries. Some of the mice experienced symptoms similar to a concussion, such as lack of balance and poor results on mice memory tests.
Some mice were later injected with a dye that is not able to cross a healthy blood-brain barrier but can get through an impaired one. Using a scan, scientists learned that roughly half of the injected mice had dye in their brains. The brains in some ways resembled that of the teenage boys, with leaking blood vessels and signs of tau protein accumulation. The head impacts had occurred only a few days previously. One puzzle, though, was that the mice who experienced concussions were not the ones whose blood-brain barrier was compromised. The study, researchers admit, brought up more questions than it answered.
Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyers at McCann & Wall, LLC Advocate for Victims of Sports Related Recklessness and NegligenceIf you or a loved one has suffered a severe head injury because of another party’s recklessness or negligence, or in the course of playing sports, you need the services of the experienced Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyers at McCann & Wall, LLC. Call 215-569-8488 or complete our online form to schedule an initial consultation.