“Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)” is a progressive brain disease associated with repetitive trauma to the head. War veterans and athletes in contact sports such as American football and boxing are particularly vulnerable to developing CTE. Currently, CTE can only be diagnosed by examination of brain tissue after death.
Researchers from Boston University studied cerebrospinal fluids and brain tissues taken from 23 deceased football players with CTE, 50 patients with Alzheimer’s, and 18 non-athlete normal controls. They found that a protein called CCL11 is significantly higher in the brain tissues of football players, and the levels of CCL11 increased with the number of years of their sporting career. Preliminary analysis similarly found increased CCL11 levels in the cerebrospinal fluids of the athletes, which means that it may be possible to look for CTE in living patients without an invasive procedure.
The study also showed that CCL11 could be used to distinguish between CTE and Alzheimer’s disease, which can have similar signs of neurodegeneration but require different treatments. Further studies using a greater number of participants and more varied demographic (e.g. age, gender, race) still need to be conducted before a reliable diagnostic tool can be developed.
Link to the study: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0185541