WEDNESDAY, Sept. 21, 2022 (HealthDay News) — After professional boxers and mixed martial artists stop actively fighting, cognitive function and brain thickness measures may stabilize and blood neurofilament light (NfL) levels may decline, according to a study published online Sept. 14 in Neurology.

Xiaowei Zhuang, from the Cleveland Clinic in Las Vegas, Nevada, and colleagues compared longitudinal changes in cognitive functioning and brain structures among 45 male fighters who transitioned to an inactive fighting status without any further exposure to repetitive head impacts (RHI) and 45 fighters remaining active with continual exposure to RHI.

The researchers found significantly different longitudinal trajectories between transitioned and active fighters with respect to verbal memory (P[false discovery rate, FDR] = 4.73E-04), psychomotor speed (PFDR = 4.73E-04), processing speed (PFDR = 3.90E-02), and NfL levels. Over time, transitioned fighters showed improved cognitive functioning and decreased NfL levels, while active fighters showed declines in cognitive performance and stable NfL levels. Fifty-four of 68 cortical regions examined demonstrated a consistently changing trajectory, with thickness measures stabilizing on a group level for transitioned fighters and subtly declining over time for active fighters.

“This study could be a starting point to identify potential predictors of individuals who are at a higher risk of RHI-related long-term neurological conditions,” the authors write.

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