Boston University researchers who have established the nation's largest brain bank focused on the crippling disease known as CTE have found evidence of the condition in 96 percent of former NFL players it has tested posthumously.
New data from the research project has found that 76 of the 79 former players whose brains were examined had the degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), in which the brain deteriorates over time, Frontline
Football players, and others who have suffered numerous hits to the head, appear to be especially at risk for CTE. CTE symptoms include “impulsivity, explosivity, and aggression,” said Ann McKee, M.D., a Boston University researcher who heads up the research project.
The disease can only be detected with an autopsy, and has also been found in the brains of high school and college football players, including athletes who never had a diagnosed concussion. Dr. McKee has suggested a majority of professional football players could suffer from CTE, which has also been linked to depression and dementia.
CTE has also turned up in the brains of football players linked with domestic violence. Junior Seau, a former NFL star who was found to have CTE after his suicide in 2012, was arrested two years before his death on suspicion of assaulting his girlfriend.
The latest findings suggest a clear link between football and traumatic brain injury, she added.
“Obviously this high percentage of living individuals is not suffering from CTE,” said Dr. McKee, a neuropathologist who directs the brain bank as part of a collaboration between the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University’s CTE Center. But “playing football, and the higher the level you play football and the longer you play football, the higher your risk.”
Many of the players who have donated their brains for the research project, as well as their families, suspected that they may have had the disease while still alive.
CTE occurs when repetitive head trauma leads to the production of abnormal proteins in the brain known as “tau.” The tau proteins form tangles around the brain’s blood vessels, interrupting normal functioning and eventually killing nerve cells themselves. CTE is linked to mood disorders, such as depression and bouts of rage, as well as confusion, memory loss, and advanced dementia.
The new data from the brain bank comes as thousands of NFL retirees approach an Oct. 14 deadline to decide whether to opt out of a proposed settlement in the class-action concussion case brought against the league by more than 4,500 former players.
Players in the lawsuit have accused the league of concealing a link between football and brain disorders. Data filed in federal court this month showed the NFL expects nearly a third of all retired players to develop a long-term cognitive problem, such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, as a result of football.
Under the proposed settlement, the survivors of players found to have died with CTE can qualify for a payment as high as $4 million.
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