1/22/2013 - Using new brain imaging techniques, Julian Bailes, MD, Chairman of the department of Neurosurgery at NorthShore University HealthSystem, in collaboration with UCLA researchers, has identified the abnormal tau proteins associated with concussions and traumatic brain injuries in five living retired National Football League players. Previously, identifying this protein could only be done through an autopsy.

"It is the holy grail of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) research to be able to identify those who are suffering from the syndrome early, while they're still alive,” said study author Dr. Bailes, who also serves as Director of the Brain Injury Research Institute and has been a CTE researcher during the last decade. “Discovering the effects of prior brain trauma earlier opens up possibilities for syndrome symptom treatment and prevention.”

Studies have found that athletes exposed to repetitive mild traumatic brain injuries may develop ongoing impairment such as CTE, a degenerative condition caused by a build up of tau protein associated with personality changes, memory loss, confusion, depression, progressive dementia and suicidal behavior.

Five retired NFL players aged 45 or older who had a history of concussions participated in the study. Researchers used a brain-imaging tool originally developed for assessing Alzheimer’s disease. They created a chemical marker called FDDNP, which they viewed using a PET scan and were able to identify where these abnormal tau proteins accumulate in the brain.

The preliminary findings of the study have been published in the January 22 online issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, the official journal of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry.