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The atrophied brain of chronic traumatic encephalopathy -- the result of cumulative concussions. (Courtesy Ann McKee)

At a May 18 conference on sports concussion and spinal injury, organized by Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, former hockey player Dan LaCouture and former New England Patriots player Ted Johnson told poignant stories of playing through multiple repeat concussions. I realize their cases are pretty extreme, but my overriding feeling as a parent was horror.

The effects of concussion were first medically described in 1928, in “punch drunk” boxers. Neuropathologist Ann McKee, MD, of Boston University and the Veteran’s Administration does brain autopsies for a living, and showed us the atrophied brains of ex-NFL players like John Grimsley and Dave Duerson. Both have abnormal deposits of a protein called tau. That’s the hallmark of a neurodegenerative brain disorder called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Full story »

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On June 6, 2011, the Boston Bruins were playing the Vancouver Canucks in game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals. Bruins forward Nathan Horton had passed the puck to his teammate Milan Lucic when he was blindsided by the Canucks’s Aaron Rome, who buried his left shoulder into Horton’s face. Horton’s head was spun backwards, down towards the ice. The back of his head was the first part of his body to make contact with the ice. He was knocked unconscious. His arms became rigid. His eyes rolled back in his head. He had a convulsion.

Nathan Horton was concussed.

Concussion is all too common in sports, particularly those, like ice hockey, that involve body-to-body collisions. Yet it’s still somewhat of a medical mystery. Until the last 10 to 15 years, few physicians or scientists considered concussion significant enough to warrant scientific investigation. Thus, we know very little about it. Full story »

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Could an extract from this Chinese club moss have a neuroprotective effect?

Severe traumatic brain injury — such as that associated with military head wounds — is basically untreatable. In addition to cognitive and motor impairments, it leads to epilepsy about 20 to 50 percent of the time; anticonvulsants given after trauma have been tried as a preventative but have not worked. “After head trauma, physicians often watch symptoms evolve, and there’s nothing we can do to prevent them,” says Alexander Rotenberg, a neurologist and neurobiology investigator at Children’s Hospital Boston.

The brain damage begins within seconds of the actual trauma, but a punishing series of biochemical events in the brain unfold over the subsequent days and weeks, making matters worse Full story »