Traumatic brain injury (TBI) and repeated sports-related concussions (rSRCs) are associated with an increased risk for neurodegeneration. Autopsy findings of selected cohorts of long-term TBI survivors and rSRC athletes reveal increased tau aggregation and a persistent neuroinflammation. To assess in vivo tau aggregation and neuroinflammation in young adult TBI and rSRC cohorts, we evaluated 9 healthy controls (mean age 26 ± 5 years; 4 males, 5 females), 12 symptomatic athletes (26 ± 7 years; 6 males, 6 females) attaining ≥3 previous SRCs, and 6 moderate-to severe TBI patients (27 ± 7 years; 4 males, 2 females) in a combined positron emission tomography (PET)/magnetic resonance (MR) scanner ≥6 months post-injury. Dual PET tracers, [F]THK5317 for tau aggregation and [C]PK11195 for neuroinflammation/microglial activation, were investigated on the same day. The Repeated Battery Assessment of Neurological Status (RBANS) scores, used for cognitive evaluation, were lower in both the rSRC and TBI groups (p < 0.05). Neurofilament-light (NF-L) levels were increased in plasma and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF; p < 0.05), and serum tau levels lower, in TBI although not in rSRC. In rSRC athletes, PET imaging showed increased neuroinflammation in the hippocampus and tau aggregation in the corpus callosum. In TBI patients, tau aggregation was observed in thalami, temporal white matter and midbrain; widespread neuroinflammation was found e.g. in temporal white matter, hippocampus and corpus callosum. In mixed-sex cohorts of young adult athletes with persistent post-concussion symptoms and in TBI patients, increased tau aggregation and neuroinflammation are observed at ≥6 months post-injury using PET. Studies with extended clinical follow-up, biomarker examinations and renewed PET imaging are needed to evaluate whether these findings progress to a neurodegenerative disorder or if spontaneous resolution is possible.
Copyright © 2021 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.