New York Times Features NARSAD Grant Research on Brain Injury to Athletes

Ofer Pasternak, Ph.D., brain and behavior researcher
Ofer Pasternak, Ph.D.

In an article printed February 4th in The New York Times, Jeff Z. Klein presented the results of research which involved three NARSAD Grantees and was conducted in part with the assistance of a 2012 NARSAD Grant. The results of three studies published online in the Journal of Neurosurgery showed that hockey players who sustained concussions during the 2011-2012 season experienced acute microstructural changes in their brains. Concussion is a traumatic brain injury that results from a blow to the head. Symptoms include headache, confusion, memory loss, dizziness and nausea or vomiting.

The researchers said these were the first studies in which an independent medical team used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to analyze the effects of concussions on athletes before, during and after a season. Forty-five male and female Canadian university hockey players were observed during the 2011-12 season. Using advanced techniques, the before-, at- and post-injury scans measured things like the movement of fluid in and around cells, changes in the blood vessels and comparisons between concussed and non-concussed brains.

"What we think we see is some kind of immune response that is activated right after the concussion," co-author and 2012 NARSAD Young Investigator Grantee Ofer Pasternak, Ph.D., told the Times. "We cannot say yet whether it is long-term damage," he went on to say, although such changes might contribute to long-term neurological deficits or to degenerative diseases such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the future.

When the scientists compared the brains of concussed players to those of non-concussed players, they found differences in their white-matter microstructure, which were still evident by the end-of-season MRI. "We don't know what the long-term effects are. I think we're still at a stage where it's too early to tell," said co-principal author and 2009 NARSAD Distinguished Investigator Grantee Martha Shenton, Ph.D., Director of the Psychiatry Neuroimaging Laboratory at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Dr. Pasternak stressed the findings are important not only for hockey, football and soccer players, but also for anyone who suffers a concussion―from the soldier in combat to those who strike their heads in an automobile accident or as the result of a fall, for example.

Read the New York Times article about this research.

Read more about these studies from the Winnipeg Free Press.

Read the abstracts for these three studies from the Journal of Neurosurgery:
Study 1
Study 2
Study 3