In the first study, researchers studied 26 football players ranging in age from 9-13 years old without a history of concussions to identify the repercussions of repetitive impact on the DMN. Gowtham Krishnan Murugesan, a Ph. D. student in biomedical engineering and member of the ANSIR lab noted, “This work adds to a growing body of literature indicating that sub-concussive head impacts can have an effect on the brain. This is a highly understudied area at the youth and high school level.” All 26 players in the study wore helmets lined with Head Impact Telemetry System (HITS) technology for an entire football season. This technology is composed of sensors measuring the magnitude, location, and direction of cerebral impacts. This data aided researchers in the calculation of concussion risk exposure for each player.
Using machine learning, Murugesan and the research team found that the “research suggests an increasing functional change in the brain with increasing head impact exposure.” One of the largest reasons head impact affects this age range so quickly is precisely due to their age. “The brains of these youth and adolescent athletes are undergoing rapid maturation in this age range,” Murugesan adds. “This study demonstrates that playing a season of contact sports at the youth level can produce neuroimaging brain changes, particularly for the DMN.”
In the second study, 20 high school football players from 14-18 years old wore helmets outfitted with HITS technology for the duration of a full season. Out of the 20 players, five had experienced at least one concussion, and 15 had no history of concussions. Before and after the season, players underwent an eight-minute magnetoencephalography (MEG) scan, which records and analyzes the magnetic fields produced by brain activity. Researchers then cross referenced the MEG power associated with the eight brain regions of the DMN. Post-season, the five players with a history of concussion had significantly lower connectivity between DMN regions. Players with no history of concussion had, on average, retained higher DMN connectivity by comparison.
The results demonstrate that old injuries can have significant impact on the extent of new injuries, and furthermore injures received in adolescence can be the most inimical to an individual’s health. The researchers agreed that larger data sets, longitudinal studies, and research combining MEG and fMRI data are needed to further comprehend complex factors involved in concussions.
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