Schultz V, Stern RA, Tripodis Y, Stamm J, Wrobel P, Lepage C, Weir I, Guenette JP, Chua A, Alosco ML, Baugh CM, Fritts NG, Martin BM, Chaisson CE, Coleman MJ, Lin AP, Pasternak O, Shenton ME, Koerte IK
J. Neurotrauma 2018 01;35(2):278-285
Thalamic atrophy has been associated with exposure to repetitive head impacts (RHI) in professional fighters. The aim of this study is to investigate whether or not age at first exposure (AFE) to RHI is associated with thalamic volume in symptomatic former National Football League (NFL) players at risk for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Eighty-six symptomatic former NFL players (mean age = 54.9 ± 7.9 years) were included. T1-weighted data were acquired on a 3T magnetic resonance imager, and thalamic volumes were derived using FreeSurfer. Mood and behavior, psychomotor speed, and visual and verbal memory were assessed. The association between thalamic volume and AFE to playing football and to number of years playing was calculated. Decreased thalamic volume was associated with more years of play (left: p = 0.03; right: p = 0.03). Younger AFE was associated with decreased right thalamic volume (p = 0.014). This association remained significant after adjusting for total years of play. Decreased left thalamic volume was associated with worse visual memory (p = 0.014), whereas increased right thalamic volume was associated with fewer mood and behavior symptoms (p = 0.003). In our sample of symptomatic former NFL players at risk for CTE, total years of play and AFE were associated with decreased thalamic volume. The effect of AFE on right thalamic volume was almost twice as strong as the effect of total years of play. Our findings confirm previous reports of an association between thalamic volume and exposure to RHI. They suggest further that younger AFE may result in smaller thalamic volume later in life.