Why Is This Research Project Important?

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Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by deposition of an abnormal form of tau protein in a pattern that is unique from other diseases, including Alzheimer's disease. CTE has been found most often in professional contact sport athletes (e.g., boxers, football players) who have been subjected to repetitive head impacts. The clinical features of CTE are believed to include memory and other cognitive impairment (with eventual dementia), changes in mood (e.g., depression, apathy), behavioral regulation difficulties (e.g., impulsivity, rage), and in some cases, motor changes (e.g., parkinsonism). At this time, CTE can only be diagnosed after death through neuropathological examination of brain tissue. Dr. Ann McKee and colleagues, with funding from the National Institutes of Health for the “Understanding Neurologic Injury in Traumatic Encephalopathy” (UNITE) Project, have made significant gains in the understanding and description of the neuropathological changes of CTE.

Although there has been a great deal of media attention to CTE, the scientific study of this disease is still in its early stages. Critical questions remain, such as: How common is CTE?  Why do some people get it and others do not? What is the mechanism leading from repetitive head impacts to the brain disease and later life symptoms? What are the risk factors for CTE? Can CTE be treated or even prevented?

To answer these questions, one of the critical next steps is to develop methods of detecting and diagnosing CTE during life.  The DIAGNOSE CTE Research Project is a multi-center, multi-disciplinary, 7-year, longitudinal study designed to develop and refine methods of diagnosing CTE during life and to examine risk factors for CTE. The study will not be providing a diagnosis or treatments to participants.

The ultimate goal is to be able to prevent and treat CTE and other long term consequences of repetitive head impacts in athletes, military personnel, and others.