Brain Imaging Studies in College Football Players

In a report in the May 14th edition of Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) researchers noted that the longer football players played this sport, the more likely they were to have changes in MRI.  Specifically, they noted that the hippocampus (an area in the temporal lobe important to memory) of college football players displayed smaller volume on MRI scan regardless of whether there was a documented history of concussion.  That study also noted a relationship between years of football played and reaction time as measured by cognitive testing.  The lead author of this study, Dr. Patrick Bellgowan, PhD. noted that hippocampal volume was 14% smaller for football players with no history of concussion and 23.8% smaller for athletes with a history of concussion.  Dr. Bellogowan’s group is planning a similar study on 8th grade football players.  Other researchers suggests that football players are at risk for chronic traumatic encephalopathy which has been linked to memory loss, confusion, depression, dementia and other symptoms.  It is not clear what is causing the smaller hippocampal volume in this small study; however, athletes often under report concussion.  While it is early to draw broad conclusions, it is important given the critical role of the hippocampus in short term memory.