Football hits linked to brain damage: study

March 26, 2013

​Cleveland – Repeated hits to the head while playing football may cause long-term brain damage even if the athlete does not suffer a concussion, suggests a study from the Cleveland Clinic.

A study of 67 student athletes from Baldwin Wallace University, John Carroll University and the University of Rochester showed a link between the number of hits to the head and levels of a brain protein (S100B) that leaks into the bloodstream after a head injury, according to a press release.

When the S100B protein enters the bloodstream, it is attacked by antibodies. The antibodies then reach the brain, where they attack tissue and cause brain damage. 

Although none of the players had experienced a concussion during the season, four players showed signs of this autoimmune response, which is associated with epilepsy and dementia. Brain scans indicated the antibodies were at levels similar to a person who has experienced whiplash, the press release said.

Researchers suggested that performing a relatively inexpensive blood test could determine whether players receiving hits require medical intervention.

The study was published March 6 in the journal PLOS ONE.