What is CTE and why should we Care??
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is a disease of the brain believed to be caused by repeated head trauma resulting in large accumulations of tau proteins, killing cells in regions responsible for mood, emotions, and executive functioning.Numerous former professional athletes, particularly former National Football League players are believed to have had this disease, however the NFL denies the validity of the research on CTE.
Some Players confirmed to have had CTE or who may have it now include:
- Mike Webster, NFL player, died on September 24, 2002 from a heart attack after suffering from severe depression and dementia, becoming a drug user and homeless.
- Terry Long, NFL player, committed suicide June 7, 2005 by drinking anti-freeze after struggle with severe depression.
- Andre Waters, NFL player, committed suicide November 20, 2006 by gunshot wound after suffering from depression.
- Justin Strzelczyk, NFL player, died on September 30, 2004 from crashing his car after a high speed chase by the police.
- Chris Benoit, Professional wrestler, committed suicide after murdering his wife and child.
- Ted Johnson, NFL player, suffering symptoms consistent with CTE.
- Gene Atkins, NFL player, suffering symptoms consistent with CTE.
- Kyle Turley, NFL player, retired in 2009, suffering symptoms consistent with CTE.
“The Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) has announced that a deceased former college football player who died at age 42 was already suffering from the degenerative brain disease, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). This is the first time an advanced case of CTE has been discovered in a college football player that did not play professionally. It is also the first case diagnosed in a wide receiver. CTE has been diagnosed post-mortem in at least seven recently deceased former National Football League players, and early signs of the disease were recently found by CSTE researchers in an 18 year-old deceased football player.
CTE was diagnosed in Mike Borich, a Snow College and Western Illinois University player in the 1980s, by neuropathologist Ann McKee, MD, co-director of the CSTE. Borich went on to become an award-winning division I college football coach, and was named the Offensive Coordinator of the Year in 2001, while coaching at Brigham Young University under head coach Gary Crowton. Borich also coached for the NFL’s Chicago Bears in 1999-2000. He left coaching in 2003 struggling with overwhelming drug and alcohol addictions, ultimately dying from a drug overdose in February 2009. Other CTE sufferers, such as Tom McHale of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, died with similar late-onset drug and alcohol problems. Borich was known to have approximately 10 concussions during his college football career with no subsequent concussions or head injuries since that time.
Robert Cantu, MD, a leading sports concussion expert and BUSM CSTE co-director and clinical professor of neurosurgery at BUSM said, “CTE is the only fully preventable cause of dementia. It is our hope that this evidence helps draw the focus of the CTE discussion to amateur athletes, where it belongs. Young men and women are voluntarily exposing themselves to repetitive brain trauma without full knowledge of the potential consequences, and the rules of the games are designed without an appreciation for the risks carried by the players.”
Joe Borich, Mike Borich’s father, donated his son’s brain tissue to the CSTE Brain Bank, a brain tissue repository for the study of CTE. By donating Mike’s brain, he hoped to enable athletes to play sports more safely. He also anticipated that the analysis might provide a window into Mike’s personality changes and increasingly self-destructive behavior. “Mike suffered greatly in his last few years. Through donating his brain to research I hope that his suffering will now have had meaning, and his legacy will be that in his death he helped to save others.”
Cantu and McKee and the other co-directors of the BUSM CSTE, Robert Stern, PhD, and Chris Nowinski, a former division I football player, published a paper that reported all CTE findings in athletes in the July issue of the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology (2009, vol.68¸ pp. 709-735). McKee also recently presented these findings to the NFL Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee and NFL Players Association.
Stern added, “The US House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on the NFL head injury crisis next week. This evidence should be part of the discussion. Brain trauma in sports is a public health problem, not just an NFL problem.”
Borich was not part of the CSTE Brain Donation Registry when he died. The CSTE Brain Donation Registry has now enrolled over 175 athletes in the C.O.N.T.A.C.T. research program (Consent to Offer Neural Tissue of Athletes with Concussive Trauma). These athletes will be interviewed annually by phone throughout their lives and, upon death, their brain tissue will be examined by the CSTE. This prospective approach with allow the researchers to examine the relationship between clinical symptoms and pathology for the first time.
CTE, first reported in 1928 and originally referred to as “dementia pugilistica” because it was believed to only affect boxers, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease caused by repetitive trauma to the brain. The use of the terms Traumatic Encephalopathy and CTE were first used in the 1960s.
The disease is characterized by the build-up of a toxic protein called tau in the form of neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs) and neuropil threads (NTs) throughout the brain. The abnormal protein initially impairs the normal functioning of the brain and eventually kills brain cells. Early on, CTE sufferers may display clinical symptoms such as memory impairment, emotional instability, erratic behavior, depression and problems with impulse control. However, CTE eventually progresses to full-blown dementia. Although similar to Alzheimer’s disease, CTE is an entirely distinct disease.”
Read This In-depth Story on CTE
By Kyle Garratt
Leading medical experts announced several discoveries this week linking concussions and degenerative brain disease. Included in this data is the case of a now-deceased 18-year-old whose football-related head trauma may have contributed to a rare brain disease.
In one of the more shocking discoveries involving concussions in football, medical experts at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) announced that they found early evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)–a degenerative brain disease–in a recently deceased 18-year-old boy. The boy’s identity and cause of death were not revealed, but he reportedly suffered several concussions while playing high school football and other contact sports.
CTE is a progressive and incurable condition brought on by repeated head trauma that can cause erratic behavior, memory impairment, emotional instability, depression and poor impulse control, and will eventually lead to dementia. The disease is identified through a postmortem exam and had never been documented in a football player younger than 36.
“The findings are very shocking because we never thought anybody that young could already be started down the path to this disease,” Dr. Robert Cantu, an associate professor of neurology at the Boston University School of Medicine and a co-director of CSTE, told The Boston Globe. “It should send a powerful message to people at every level of football that they need to care about this issue and treat concussions with respect.”
The CSTE also announced findings thatformer NFL offensive lineman Tom McHale suffered from CTE at the time of his death in 2008 at the age of 45. McHale played for several teams from 1987 to 1995, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and his death was declared an accidental drug overdose after years of battling addiction. McHale was the sixth deceased NFL veteran between the ages of 36 and 50 examined by the CSTE, with all six having suffered from CTE.
“This is a medically significant finding,” Dr. Daniel P. Perl, Director of Neuropathology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York told The New York Times. “I think with a sixth case identified, out of six, for a condition that is incredibly rare in the general population, there is more than enough evidence that football is clearly strongly related to the presence of this pathology.”