Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in Sports

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a neurodegenerative tauopathy caused by repetitive head injury. Although it has chiefly been studied in contact sport participants, anyone who experiences repetitive head injury is at risk of CTE. It is associated with a range of neuro-psychological problems that range from mood and behavioral symptoms to cognitive impairment and dementia. 

In 2018 the Australian Sports Brain Bank was established to support the study of CTE in Australia, and the organization has since received more than 600 donation pledges from amateur and professional sports players. 

New Study Report 

In a recently published study, researchers showed the preliminary findings of this effort based on the first 21 completed donations. The study appears in the Medical Journal of Australia.

According to the study all 21 donors had participated in sports with risks of repetitive head injury, with most of them being football and rugby players, and all of them but one, exhibited some form of neurodegeneration. 12 of the players had pathognomonic CTE lesions. 

The proportion of professional participants was higher in the CTE group. CTE was identified in the brains of older former professionals with long playing careers, but also in younger, non-professional sportsmen and in recent professionals who had played under modern concussion guidelines. Three donors with CTE were under 35 years of age.

Six of the 12 donors with CTE and one of nine without CTE had died by suicide (P = 0.042), suggesting CTE may be a suicide risk factor.

The researchers hope that the findings encourage clinicians and policymakers to develop measures to mitigate the risk of this sport-related repetitive head injury. 


Catherine M Suter, et al. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy in Australia: the first three years of the Australian Sports Brain Bank. Med Jou Aus. 2022.

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