MRI Evidence of Neuropathic Changes in Former College Football Players

Caleb M. Adler, Melissa P. Delbello, Wade Weber, Miranda Williams, Luis Rodrigo Patino Duran, David Fleck, Erin Boespflug, James Eliassen, Stephen M. Strakowski, Jon Divine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Objective: To examine effects of participating in collegiate football on neural health several years after retirement. We hypothesized that relative cortical thinning and loss of white matter integrity would be observed in former players. Design: Former NCAA Division I football players were compared with demographically similar track-And-field athletes with regard to cortical thickness and white matter integrity. Setting: Participants participated in MRI scans at the Center for Imaging Research at the University of Cincinnati. Participants: Eleven former football players and 10 demographically similar track-And-field athletes. Main Outcome Measures: Normalized cortical thickness was compared between groups using 2-Tailed Student t test. As a secondary analysis, Spearman correlation coefficient was calculated between cortical thickness and number of concussions. Fractional anisotropy for regions-of-interest placed in frontal white matter tracts and internal capsule were compared between groups using 2-Tailed Student t test. Results: Football players showed significantly lower cortical thickness within portions of both the frontal and temporal cortex. Affected frontal regions included left frontal pole and right superior frontal gyrus. Affected temporal regions included portions of the superior temporal gyrus, left inferior temporal gyrus, and right middle and superior temporal gyri. Cortical thickness inversely correlated with number of reported concussions over most of these regions. In addition, fractional anisotropy was lower in the right internal capsule of former football players, relative to controls. Conclusions: These findings suggest that at least some consequences of high-level collegiate football play persist even after the cessation of regular head blows. Longer-Term studies are warranted to examine potential cognitive and functional implications of sustained cortical atrophy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)100-105
Number of pages6
JournalClinical Journal of Sport Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018


  • brain injury
  • college football
  • concussion
  • diffusion tensor imaging
  • magnetic resonance imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation


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