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Research Details of the Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) study at the Canadian Concussion Centre (CCC)

​​Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is characterized by deposits of an abnormal protein in the brain called tau, and by shrinkage of the brain. There is currently no effective way to diagnose this condition in life or to treat this condition which has been shown to cause a progressive loss of cognitive functions leading to the development of dementia.

Mission: One of the main goals of the research team at the Canadian Concussion Centre is to examine the possible correlation between repeated concussions and late deterioration of brain function leading to CTE. Individuals who have sustained multiple concussions from playing sports seem to be at greater risk of developing CTE, but brain deterioration may also occur as a result of sustaining concussions in motor vehicle crashes, industrial injuries or falls.

Methods: Our ongoing study at the CCC is looking at the potential effects of CTE in two ways:

  • Current and retired professional football and hockey players, and other professional athletes suffering from the after-effects of repeat concussions undergo neurological, neuropsychiatric, and neuropsychological assessments, as well as MRI and PET brain scans. Our team then continues to follow them to observe how their symptoms progress.
  • Since CTE can currently only be diagnosed after death, our team also conducts autopsies and analyses of brains that were donated to the CCC by professional athletes or their families on their behalf. Members of the public who have sustained repetitive concussions are also welcome to will their brains to the Canadian  Concussion Centre  to help further this research. Learn more about brain donation.

Through these two methods of research, our team conducts a detailed research analysis of these cases to determine  how post traumatic brain degeneration, including CTE, is produced.  

Our Research Results: In May 2013, the Canadian Concussion Centre research team published the findings on the first six autopsied brains of former CFL professional football players in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience a medical journal. Each of these players had a history of concussions and, with the support and consent of each of the players' families, had donated their brains to the research project.

The findings were that three of the six players had acquired Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).Our research team discovered that although all the players had shown signs of late neurocognitive decline, not all of them showed signs of CTE. The three players without CTE had pathological diagnoses of Alzheimer's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and Parkinson's disease. This shows how important it is to continue this study. Read the full article​

We have also shown that CFL players suspected of having CTE showed changes in their MRI studies when these studies included a new type of MRI sequence called Diffusion Tensor Imaging or DTI. Specific white matter tracts in the brain showed damage when compared with control brains from non-concussed people. Also, we could relate the white matter tract damage to specific neuropsychological effects. These findings were published by our team of investigators led by Dr. Carmela Tartaglia. Find more information about our publications​.

By analyzing data collected from 284 concussed patients, we were able to provide a more accurate picture of post-concussive syndrome (PCS) and who it affects. The research also encourages updating the definition of PCS to reflect these findings. Read more about our research.

The most recent research effort to image patients suspected of CTE uses the PET scanning technique with a radioactive tracer that detects abnormal tau protein in the brain. To date 25 patients have been studied and the preliminary results were presented at the 5th Annual CCC Concussion Symposium on January 21, 2017.

 


​ ​Canadian Concussion Centre

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