The brains of college football players are subtly different from the brains of other students, especially if the players have experienced a concussion in the past, according to an important new brain-scan study that, while restrained in its conclusions, adds to concerns that sports-related hits to the head could have lingering effects on the brain, even among the young and healthy.
Almost all of us have heard by now that concussions are more injurious than was once believed. Its been widely reported that the autopsied brains of some professional football and hockey players who experienced repeated hits to the head showed signs of severe and progressive brain damage. Meanwhile, recent studies with living animals suggest that the brain may respond to even mild concussive blows with inflammatory and other reactions that, while designed to spur healing, could also contribute to tissue damage.
But many fundamental questions about the long-term impacts of blows to the head during sports remain unanswered, including which portions of the brain are most affected, whether any brain changes also affect the ability to think, and if playing a contact sport might alter the structure and function of the brains of athletes, even ones who have never experienced a confirmed concussion.