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However, clinical correlates of pathologic brain conditions are still uncertain.

Among contact sport athletes younger than 30 years old at the time of death, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was present in 41.4 percent of brains, according to a study published online Aug. 28 in JAMA Neurology.

Ann C. McKee, M.D., from the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, and colleagues characterized the neuropathologic and clinical symptoms of young brain donors who were contact sport athletes. The analysis included findings from 152 of 156 brain donors (younger than 30 years of age) identified through the Understanding Neurologic Injury and Traumatic Encephalopathy Brain Bank. Brains were donated between Feb. 1, 2008, and Sept. 31, 2022.

The researchers found that CTE was diagnosed in 41.4 percent of brains. Of the 63 brain donors diagnosed with CTE, the majority (95.2 percent) were diagnosed with mild CTE (stages I or II). Brain donors who had CTE were more likely to be older (mean difference, 3.92 years) and males who played amateur sports (71.4 percent), including American football, ice hockey, soccer, rugby, and wrestling. Duration of football careers was significantly longer in those with versus without CTE (mean difference, 2.81 years). Cognitive and neurobehavioral symptoms were common among all brain donors, and suicide was the most common cause of death, with no differences in cause of death or clinical symptoms based on CTE status.

“This case series found that young brain donors exposed to repetitive head impacts were highly symptomatic regardless of CTE status, and the causes of symptoms in this sample are likely multifactorial,” the authors write.

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