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Sport and Exercise Psychology


Concussion in athletes can contribute to early neuropsychological changes that may be indicative of future neurodegenerative disease. One of the hallmark findings of chronic traumatic encephalopathy is anxiety and impulsive behavior that often develops early in the course of the disease. The behavioral dysfunction can be grouped into a broader category referred to as cognitive disruption. The current gold standard for diagnosing chronic neurodegeneration is post-mortem evaluation of tauopathy to identify neurofibrillary tau tangles in neurons. Few studies, however, have looked at clinical correlations between acute injury and chronic neurodegeneration in terms of behavior. This lack of focus towards translational study has limited advancements towards treatment. In this pilot investigation, the acute cognitive and emotional (anger, impulsivity, and anxiety) affects of concussion in a cohort of collegiate athletes (n = 30) are examined and compared to findings in the post-mortem pathologic features of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Specifically, the role of the seroternergic system with alpha synuclein and tauopathy staining and the potential for early clinically relevant behavioral and pharmaceutical interventions was investigated. The purpose was to determine if athletes began demonstrating cognitive disruption present in post-mortem evaluation during the acute phase of injury. The acute data was collected via questionnaires within ten days of the athletes’ concussion diagnosis. Results demonstrated that 11 of 30 athletes (36%) scored in a diagnosable range of anxiety post-concussion, and athletes scored above the norm in state-anger (M = 22.9, SD = 9.99), indicating severe emotional disturbance. A limitation is that due to the long time frame from acute injury to the development of neurodegeneration individual athletes cannot be tracked in longevity thus limiting the findings to the realm of correlation. The findings from this pilot study warrant further investigation into the neuropsychological aspects for how to manage concussion and prevent degenerative disease.

Source Citation

Byrd M, Dixon CE, Lucke-Wold B. Examining the Correlation between Acute Behavioral Manifestations of Concussion and the Underlying Pathophysiology of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy: A Pilot Study. Journal of Neurology and Psychology. 2018;6(1):01-04. doi:10.13188/2332-3469.1000037