The cumulative effect of repetitive subconcussive collisions on the structural and functional integrity of the brain remains largely unknown. Athletes in collision sports, like football, experience a large number of impacts across a single season of play. The majority of these impacts, however, are generally overlooked, and their long-term consequences remain poorly understood. This study sought to examine the effects of repetitive collisions across a single competitive season in NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision athletes using advanced neuroimaging approaches. Players were evaluated before and after the season using multiple MRI sequences, including T1-weighted imaging, diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), arterial spin labeling (ASL), resting-state functional MRI (rs-fMRI), and susceptibility weighted imaging (SWI). While no significant differences were found between pre- and post-season for DTI metrics or cortical volumes, seed-based analysis of rs-fMRI revealed significant (p<0.05) changes in functional connections to right isthmus of the cingulate cortex (ICC), left ICC, and left hippocampus. ASL data revealed significant (p<0.05) increases in global cerebral blood flow (CBF), with a specific regional increase in right postcentral gyrus. SWI data revealed that 44% of the players exhibited outlier rates (p<0.05) of regional decreases in SWI signal. Of key interest, athletes in whom changes in rs-fMRI, CBF and SWI were observed were more likely to have experienced high G impacts on a daily basis. These findings are indicative of potential pathophysiological changes in brain integrity arising from only a single season of participation in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision, even in the absence of clinical symptoms or a diagnosis of concussion. Whether these changes reflect compensatory adaptation to cumulative head impacts or more lasting alteration of brain integrity remains to be further explored.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
- Clinical Neurology
- Cognitive Neuroscience