A new biomarker for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, has been discovered that may allow the disease to be diagnosed during life for the first time, Boston University researchers said Tuesday.
"The findings of this study are the early steps toward identifying CTE during life. Once we can successfully diagnose CTE in living individuals, we will be much closer to discovering treatments for those who suffer from it," said senior author Dr. Ann McKee, director of BU’s CTE Center and chief of neuropathology at the VA Boston Healthcare System.
Researchers from Boston University's School of Medicine and the VA Boston Healthcare System studied the brains of 23 former college and professional football players. They compared them to the brains of 50 non-athletes with Alzheimer’s disease and 18 non-athlete controls.
They observed that the biomarker CCL11 levels were normal in the brains of the non-athlete controls and non-athletes with Alzheimer’s disease, but were significantly elevated in the brains of individuals with CTE.
They then compared the degree of elevation of CCL11 to the number of years those individuals played football and found that there was a positive correlation between those levels and the number of years played.
The researchers also took post-mortem samples of the cerebrospinal fluid from four of the control individuals, seven of the individuals with CTE and four of the individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, and found that CCL11 levels in the cerebrospinal fluid were similarly normal in the control and Alzheimer’s individuals, but elevated in those individuals with CTE, suggesting that the presence of CCL11 might be able to assist in the detection of CTE during life.
Repeated blows to the head are the most likely cause of CTE. Scientists believe genes probably play a role and may explain why some people with repeated head blows never develop the disease.
CTE can lead to symptoms like violent mood swings, depression and other cognitive difficulties.
Research released earlier this year on 202 former football players found evidence of CTE linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.