Magnetic Resonance Spectroscope could replace autopsies, which is the only way to diagnose chronic traumatic encephalopathy

Researchers at the Center for Clinical Spectroscopy at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston have discovered that an imaging technique may quickly diagnose chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). 

Alexander P. Lin, Ph.D., study leader from the Center for Clinical Spectroscopy at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, along with his team of researchers, have found that a new imaging technique could help diagnose CTE, which is a degenerative brain disease caused by repetitive head trauma. CTE can cause depression, difficulty with memory, impulsive/erratic behavior, and dementia. Those who suffer from it can experience long-term disability and permanent brain damage. 

Currently, CTE can only be diagnosed via autopsy. Each year, approximately 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur in the United States, and several other cases of subclinical concussions - injuries that act like concussions but cannot be diagnosed - are "unrecognized." This information, which was provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, builds a valid argument for the need for a new method of CTE diagnosis. 

"The devastating effects of brain injuries suffered by pro football players who repeatedly suffered concussions and subconcussive brain trauma during their careers have put the spotlight on CTE," said Lin. "However, blows to the head suffered by all athletes involved in contact sports are of increasing concern."

But now, Lin and his team have used an imaging technique called magnetic resonance spectroscope (MRS) to examine five professional male athletes who are now retired. These athletes participated in football, wrestling and boxing, and were also suspected of having CTE. In addition, five other control patients that matched the age (32-55) and size of the athletes were examined with MRS as well. 

MRS utilizes a strong magnetic field and radio waves to acquire information from within the body using a MR scanner. MRS is also known as a "virtual biopsy." 

Lin and his team found that the former athletes had higher levels of choline, which is a water-soluble essential nutrient that indicates the presence of damaged tissue, than the control patients. The athletes also had higher levels of gamma-aminobutyric (GABA), glutamate and asparate than the control patients. GABA and glutamate are involved in normal brain processes, but too much or too little can cause a problem. 

"Being able to diagnose CTE could help athletes of all ages and levels, as well as war veterans who suffer mild brain injuries, many of which go undetected," said Lin. 

This study was presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

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