Background: American-style professional football players are exposed to repetitive head impacts, putting them at potential risk of pathological p-Tau protein aggregation. We sought to validate previous positron emission tomography (PET) imaging findings showing increased p-Tau uptake in former professional football players compared to control subjects and investigate relationships between football exposure and p-Tau deposition.
Methods: We recruited 27 former professional football players who underwent imaging on a GE Discovery MI PET/CT scanner using [11C]-PiB for amyloid-β and [18F]-FTP for p-Tau. Reference region-based analysis was performed to quantify standardized uptake value ratios (SUVr) using the cerebellum non vermis as reference. We compared these former players with a male convenience sample of 11 age-matched control subjects.
Results: No meaningful p-Tau or amyloid-β PET tracer uptake differences were seen between former football players and controls. However, a significant association between total years of professional football and p-Tau tracer uptake in entorhinal cortex (p<0.05) was identified after adjusting for age, race, and football position.
Conclusions: No significant differences were seen between p-Tau tracer uptake in football players compared to controls. Future studies should explore tau-relevant tracer uptake in areas associated with aging and AD using next-generation tracers with better in vivo specificity.