Participation in contact sports places athletes at elevated risk for repeated head injuries and is associated with negative mental health outcomes later in life. The current study identified changes observable on neuroimaging that persisted beyond the apparent resolution of acute symptoms of concussion. Sixteen young adult ice hockey players with a remote history of concussion but no subjective complaints were compared against 13 of their teammates with no history of concussion. Participants completed a detailed phenotypic assessment and a neuroimaging battery including diffusion kurtosis imaging and resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging. Athletes with a history of concussion performed no differently from those without on phenotypic assessment, but showed significantly elevated fractional anisotropy (FA) in the left genu and anterior corona radiata relative to those without. Post hoc analyses revealed that elevated FA was associated with increased microstructural complexity perpendicular to the primary axon (radial kurtosis). Athletes with concussion history also showed significant differences in the organization of the default mode network (DMN) characterized by stronger temporal coherence in posterior DMN, decreased temporal coherence in anterior DMN, and increased functional connectivity outside the DMN. In the absence of deficits on detailed phenotypic assessment, athletes with a history of concussion displayed changes to the microstructural architecture of the cerebral white matter and to the functional connectivity of the brain at rest. Some of these changes are consistent with those previously associated with persisting deficits and complaints, but we also report novel, complementary changes that possibly represent compensatory mechanisms.

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Journal of Neurotrauma
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Orr, C. A., Albaugh, M., Watts, R., Garavan, H., Andrews, T., Nickerson, J., … Hudziak, J. (2016). Neuroimaging biomarkers of a history of concussion observed in asymptomatic young athletes. Journal of Neurotrauma, 33(9), 803–810. doi:10.1089/neu.2014.3721