Brain Imaging Identifies Changes in NFL Players

May 9, 2016

Imaging with SPECT can identify brain trauma among NFL players.

Single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) imaging detects brain damage among professional football players who sustained multiple head collisions during their playing careers, according to a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

Researchers from California and Pennsylvania sought to determine if low perfusion in specific brain images, observed with neuroimaging, could identify which subjects were football players and which were healthy controls.

The study included 161 retired and current NFL players and 124 healthy controls. All underwent medical examinations, neuropsychological tests, and perfusion neuroimaging with SPECT. Perfusion estimates of each scan were quantified using a standard atlas. The researchers hypothesized that hypoperfusion, particularly in the orbital frontal, anterior cingulate, anterior temporal, hippocampal, amygdala, insular, caudate, superior/mid occipital, and cerebellar sub-regions alone would reliably separate controls from NFL players.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"48437","attributes":{"alt":"NFL imaging","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_5614527324365","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"5778","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"height: 128px; width: 171px; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 1px; float: right;","title":"©gualtiero boffi/Shutterstock.com","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

 that the NFL players showed lower cerebral perfusion on average in 36 brain regions. The NFL players were distinguished from controls with 90% sensitivity, 86% specificity, and 94% accuracy.

The researchers concluded that they could detect abnormally low perfusion on SPECT in professional NFL players, identifying traumatic brain injury in specific regions.  “These same regions alone can distinguish this group from healthy subjects with high diagnostic accuracy,” they wrote.