What is CTE?
This month, our team at Precisionary Instruments would like to focus on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) because it has become such a hot topic in the news. CTE is a neurodegenerative brain disease found in athletes, veterans, and individuals with a history of repetitive brain injuries. Most documents cases have been found in athletes who play contact sports, such as football, rugby, soccer, and boxing. The documentary “Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez” from Netflix charts the possibility of CTE in former New England Patriot star, Aaron Hernandez.
Although CTE has been documented in someone as young as 17, early symptoms of the disease do not appear until the late 20s or 30s. Initial symptoms include changes in mood and behavior, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and paranoia. Eventually, patients with CTE experience problems with memory and have impaired judgment.
Brain Slice Research for CTE
Much of what we know about CTE comes from the research of Dr. Ann McKee from the Boston University VA Brain Bank. CTE is categorized as a tauopathy, meaning that the tau protein is found in clumps inside patients with CTE. Tau protein spreads through the brain and slowly kills neurons. CTE is confirmed as a diagnosis after death with an autopsy of the brain. In the lab, animal models of CTE have been developed and are being used to better understand the pathogenesis of the disease and potential treatments. In addition to behavioral studies in animal models, studies of mouse brain slices provide valuable biological and cellular clues to how CTE develops.
In humans, brain deterioration can be clearly seen in brains from a patient with advanced CTE:
In mouse models, CTE-like neuropathology can be seen after acute brain injury. Two week after a sham blast to the brain, these mouse brain tissue show increased astrocytic GFAP immunoreactivity (right image below) compared to normal mice (left image below).