Tackle Football Linked to Smaller Hippocampal Volume and Slower Reaction Times

Patrick S. F. Bellgowan, PhD Laureate Institute for Brain Research Faculty of Community Medicine, The University of Tulsa, Tulsa, OklahomaMedicalResearch Interview with:
Patrick S. F. Bellgowan, PhD
Laureate Institute for Brain Research
Faculty of Community Medicine, The University of Tulsa,
Tulsa, Oklahoma


MedicalResearch: What are the main findings of the study?

Dr. Bellgowan: These results demonstrate 14% and 24% smaller hippocampal volumes in collegiate football players with and without a history of concussion relative to education-, sex- and age-matched controls participants.  Further, the number of years of tackle football experience was correlated with smaller hippocampi and slower baseline reaction times.  The hippocampus plays a key role in memory and emotional regulation.  Volumetrics of other medial temporal lobe structures (I.e. The amygdala) did NOT show differences among groups suggesting that this effect is localized to the hippocampus.

MedicalResearch: Were any of the findings unexpected?

Dr. Bellgowan: We hypothesized that only the concussed athlete group would show hippocampal volume differences but all collegiate contact sport athletes showed significantly smaller hippocampal volumes.  Moreover, the relationship between years of playing experience and volume (left hemisphere) was unexpected.

MedicalResearch: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Bellgowan: Although the clinical significance of this finding remains unknown, these data are further support for implementing conservative treatment regimens for concussed athletes and those suspected of being concussed.

MedicalResearch: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Bellgowan: We are seeking to get funding to look at this effect in younger athletes.  We are also planning to follow the present athletes past their football careers in order to assess whether the the differences in hippocampal volume will remain even after participation in the contact sport has ended.

Citation:

Relationship of Collegiate Football Experience and Concussion With Hippocampal Volume and Cognitive Outcomes

Rashmi Singh, PhD; Timothy B. Meier, PhD; Rayus Kuplicki, MS; Jonathan Savitz, PhD; Ikuko Mukai, PhD; LaMont Cavanagh, MD; Thomas Allen, DO, MPH; T. Kent Teague, PhD; Christopher Nerio, MS; David Polanski, MS; Patrick S. F. Bellgowan, PhD

JAMA. 2014;311(18):1883-1888. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.3313