A study conducted by Boston University researchers enrolled a panel of seven neuropathologists to review slides taken from 25 cases linked to tau (abnormal proteins) brain deposits. Using the chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) provisional diagnostic criteria created by Boston University's Ann McKee, the panel confirmed for the first time, CTE as a rare brain disease diagnosable by brain tissue neuropathological examination.
The panel of experts were not given any clinical information such as sex, age, athletic exposure and clinical symptoms for the slides they independently reviewed. They finalized that CTE is different from several other tauopathies which include Alzheimer's disease and ageing. They also confirmed the condition's unique pathological brain signature.
"The specific feature considered unique to CTE was the abnormal perivascular accumulation of tau in neurons, astrocytes and cell processes in an irregular pattern at the depths of the cortical sulci," said McKee, the study's corresponding author.
CTE, a degenerative brain disease, is often seen in patients with recurring brain trauma such as asymptomatic sub-concussive and symptomatic concussions blows. Trauma leads to brain tissue's gradual deterioration.
Tau proteins build up in the course of deterioration. These brain changes often start towards the end of an athletic phase but sometimes could take years even decades after the last brain trauma incident.
CTE has been linked to the repeated blows endured in sports such as boxing and football. Eventually, the brain disease result in impaired judgment, confusion, memory loss, aggression, depression, impulse control issues and eventually advancing dementia. Mckee added that this lesion is only found in individuals who got exposed to brain trauma and was neither a characteristic of other disorders including Alzheimer's disease.
The study was published in the Acta Neuropathologica journal on Dec. 14. The research was funded by the Department of Defense, National Institute of Aging Boston University Alzheimer's Disease Center, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Veterans Affairs Biorepository, the Department of Defense Peer Reviewed Alzheimer's Research Program, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Institute of Aging Boston University Framingham Heart Study, the Concussion Legacy Foundation and the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment.
The World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE), the National Institute on Aging, the National Football League and the Andlinger Foundation also supported the CTE study.