Neurofilament light and tau levels in combat sports: The Professional Fighters Brain
Health Study
Press Release Title: MMA Fighters, Boxers May Have Signs of Long-term Brain Injury in Blood Authors: Charles Bernick, Guogen Shan, Kaj Blennow, Henrik Zetterberg
Background: Plasma measures of neurofilament light (NFL) and tau may be markers of acute neural injury but less is known of their application in chronic mild traumatic brain injury. This study examines these blood markers in a cohort of professional fighters.
Design/Methods: The cohort consists of 291 active professional fighters (128 boxers, 163 mixed martial arts; mean age 29.9 years), 44 retired fighters (38 boxers, 6 MMA; mean age 45.3 years) and 103 controls (mean age 29.58) who participate in the Professional Fighters Brain Health Study. Plasma was obtained at baseline visit and concentrations of neurofilament light and tau were determined; all samples were analyzed at the same time using the same batch of reagents by laboratory technicians who were blind to clinical information.
Results: Active professional fighters have higher levels of NFL and tau compared to retired fighters or controls (p<0.0001). NFL concentrations, but not tau concentrations, were correlated with the amount of self-reported sparring done in the 2 weeks prior to baseline. Neither NFL nor tau levels were associated with age or ethnicity in any of the groups or number of professional fights in the active fighters. Higher NFL levels were correlated with lower performance on computerized tests of processing speed.
Conclusions: This study supports the idea that concentrations of NFL and tau in blood are elevated in individuals exposed to repetitive head trauma, with NFL levels more tightly linked than tau to acute exposure to head trauma.
Study supported by: UCLA Dream Fund UFC Bellator/ Haymon Boxing Top Rank

Author: tbihealing

Sean Dudas is a California native and remains active and interested in many corners of life. In November of 2015, Sean suffered a moderate traumatic brain injury from a fall; his life since has been solely devoted to the topic of this blog - TBI and other forms of acquired brain injury. With his passions and life as he imagined it to be on an indeterminate hold during his rehabilitation and recovery, he began this blog and a TBI health advocacy group. Through uniform rules of professional responsibility and ethics, he hopes the health advocate profession may be an affordable adjunct to the team needed by every brain injured person and those caring for them. He hopes that this blog will continue educating and supporting survivors of brain injury, their caregivers, and anyone interested in this devastating medical sojourn, alongside the discovery of a new self and a meaningful life outside the treatment environment. Sean is active in supporting mental health and suicide crisis support, various manifestations of trauma in children and adults, and is a Doctor of Law with a focus on health and science law. He is also an athlete, poet, writer, and nature enthusiast.

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