Nav: Home

Can brain injury from boxing, MMA be measured?

December 23, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -For boxers and mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters, is there a safe level of exposure to head trauma? A new study shows different effects in the brain for younger, current fighters compared to older, retired fighters. The study is published in the December 23, 2019, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

As a group, both the current and the former fighters had loss of brain volume. In the current fighters, the volume loss was in areas of the brain that suggest it is a result of the injury, when nerve fibers are torn as the brain shifts inside the skull. In the retired fighters, the volume loss was in areas of the brain that suggest it is due to the progressive disease process seen in neurodegenerative diseases such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) or Alzheimer's disease.

CTE is a rare brain disease found in athletes and others with a history of repeated head traumas. Symptoms include memory loss and thinking problems as well as emotional and behavior changes such as aggression.

"More research is needed to confirm these findings and to see if this pattern of loss of brain volume continues over a longer time period, but the results suggest that people with repeated head impacts may experience different processes in the brain at different times," said study author Charles Bernick, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. "Ideally, future studies would build on these results and help us identify ways to predict irreversible injury so we could reduce the risks for these professional athletes before it's too late."

The study involved 50 current boxers with an average age of 29 and an average of five fights; 23 retired boxers with an average age of 45 and an average of 38 fights; and 100 mixed martial arts fighters with an average age of 29 and an average of eight fights. They were compared to 31 non-fighters with an average age of 31 who had no history of head trauma, military service or participation at the high school level or higher in a sport in which head trauma can often occur, such as football or soccer.

Bernick said too few retired MMA fighters took part in the study to form a group. He also noted that a few women were involved in the study: one retired boxer, two current boxers, 10 MMA fighters and five of the non-fighters.

The participants had brain scans and took tests of memory and thinking skills at the beginning of the study and again each year for at least two years.

Compared to the non-fighters, the current boxers had a greater average yearly rate of loss of brain volume in the areas of the left thalamus, the mid-anterior corpus callosum and the central corpus callosum. In the MMA fighters, a similar pattern was seen, but to a slightly lesser extent, in the left thalamus and the central corpus callosum, Bernick said.

For the left thalamus area of the brain, the average volume at the beginning of the study was 3,773 cubic millimeters. The current boxers lost an average of 145 cubic millimeters (mm3) in volume per year, compared to a loss of 100 mm3 for the MMA fighters and a gain of 43 mm3 for the non-fighters.

The retired boxers did not show changes in those areas of the brain. Instead, they showed brain volume loss in the areas of the left and right amygdala and the right hippocampus. These are areas of the brain that are affected in diseases such as Alzheimer's and CTE.

For the right hippocampus, the average volume at the start of the study was 2,350 mm3. The retired boxers lost an average of 43 mm3 per year, compared to a gain of 10 mm3 for the non-fighters.

Bernick noted that these changes in brain volumes were relatively small. "More research is needed to determine if these small changes could help us predict what will happen for individual athletes," he said.

Overall, the researchers found no significant differences in the scores on the thinking and memory tests among the groups of current and retired fighters and non-fighters. However, when they divided the current fighters into those who had brain volume loss and those without, they found that those with brain volume loss had worse scores on two of the thinking tests for processing speed.

One limitation of the study is that fighters volunteered to take part. So it is possible that people having problems or concerns about their health might be more likely to take part in the study.

Bernick has received research funding from Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Top Rank Promotions, Haymon Boxing, Bellator/Spike TV and UCLA Dream Fund.
-end-


American Academy of Neurology

Related Brain Articles:

Human brain size gene triggers bigger brain in monkeys
Dresden and Japanese researchers show that a human-specific gene causes a larger neocortex in the common marmoset, a non-human primate.
Unique insight into development of the human brain: Model of the early embryonic brain
Stem cell researchers from the University of Copenhagen have designed a model of an early embryonic brain.
An optical brain-to-brain interface supports information exchange for locomotion control
Chinese researchers established an optical BtBI that supports rapid information transmission for precise locomotion control, thus providing a proof-of-principle demonstration of fast BtBI for real-time behavioral control.
Transplanting human nerve cells into a mouse brain reveals how they wire into brain circuits
A team of researchers led by Pierre Vanderhaeghen and Vincent Bonin (VIB-KU Leuven, Université libre de Bruxelles and NERF) showed how human nerve cells can develop at their own pace, and form highly precise connections with the surrounding mouse brain cells.
Brain scans reveal how the human brain compensates when one hemisphere is removed
Researchers studying six adults who had one of their brain hemispheres removed during childhood to reduce epileptic seizures found that the remaining half of the brain formed unusually strong connections between different functional brain networks, which potentially help the body to function as if the brain were intact.
Alcohol byproduct contributes to brain chemistry changes in specific brain regions
Study of mouse models provides clear implications for new targets to treat alcohol use disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome.
Scientists predict the areas of the brain to stimulate transitions between different brain states
Using a computer model of the brain, Gustavo Deco, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, and Josephine Cruzat, a member of his team, together with a group of international collaborators, have developed an innovative method published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Sept.
BRAIN Initiative tool may transform how scientists study brain structure and function
Researchers have developed a high-tech support system that can keep a large mammalian brain from rapidly decomposing in the hours after death, enabling study of certain molecular and cellular functions.
Wiring diagram of the brain provides a clearer picture of brain scan data
In a study published today in the journal BRAIN, neuroscientists led by Michael D.
Blue Brain Project releases first-ever digital 3D brain cell atlas
The Blue Brain Cell Atlas is like ''going from hand-drawn maps to Google Earth'' -- providing previously unavailable information on major cell types, numbers and positions in all 737 brain regions.
More Brain News and Brain Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Sound And Silence
Sound surrounds us, from cacophony even to silence. But depending on how we hear, the world can be a different auditory experience for each of us. This hour, TED speakers explore the science of sound. Guests on the show include NPR All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly, neuroscientist Jim Hudspeth, writer Rebecca Knill, and sound designer Dallas Taylor.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Kittens Kick The Giggly Blue Robot All Summer
With the recent passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there's been a lot of debate about how much power the Supreme Court should really have. We think of the Supreme Court justices as all-powerful beings, issuing momentous rulings from on high. But they haven't always been so, you know, supreme. On this episode, we go all the way back to the case that, in a lot of ways, started it all.  Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.