Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a neurodegenerative disease that has been associated with a history of repeated impacts on the head. The neuropathological diagnosis is based on a specific pattern of tau deposition with minimal beta amyloid deposition that differs from other disorders, including Alzheimer's disease. The feasibility of detecting tau and amyloid deposition in the brains of living individuals at risk for CTE has not been well studied.
In a recent study, positron emission tomography (PET) with flortaucipir and PET with florbetapir have been used to measure tau and beta-amyloid deposition, respectively, in the brains of former National Football League (NFL) players with cognitive and neuropsychiatric symptoms and in asymptomatic men with no history of traumatic brain injury. Automated image analysis algorithms were used to compare the proportion of standardized regional tau uptake value (SUVR, the proportion of radioactivity in a brain region to that of the cerebellum as reference) between the two groups and to explore the associations of SUVR with symptom severity and years of football play in the ex-player group.
A total of 26 former players and 31 controls were included in the analysis. The group of former live NFL players with cognitive and neuropsychiatric symptoms had higher tau levels measured by PET than controls in brain regions affected by CTE and did not have elevated levels of beta-amyloid. Additional studies are needed to determine if elevated tau associated with CTE can be detected in individual people