The benefits of athletic activity may be attenuated by sport-related head impacts, including soccer-related concussion and subconcussive events. The purpose of this study is to characterize the specific effects of soccer heading on white matter microstructure and cognitive function, independent of concussion, relative to non-athlete controls and relative to active athletes who are not involved in collision sports. 246 amateur soccer players, 72 non-contact/non-collision sports athletes and 110 healthy,non-athlete controls were included in the study, and underwent cognitive testing and 3T diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). Voxelwise linear regression, comparing soccer players and non-contact/non-collision sports athletes healthy,non-athlete controls, identified regions of abnormally low and high fractional anisotropy (FA), axial diffusivity (AD), radial diffusivity (RD) and mean diffusivity (MD) in athlete participants. Generalized estimating equations were used to examine the effects of 2 week and 1 year heading exposure quartile on cognitive performance and on the volume of each high and each low DTI parameter. Athletes with no or lower exposure to repetitive heading exhibited greater expression of low RD, greater expression of high FA and better performance on tasks of attention, processing speed, verbal memory, and working memory compared to non-athletes. Soccer players with the highest exposure to repetitive head impacts, however, did not differ significantly from healthy, non-athletes on either micro-structural features or cognitive performance, findings not explained by concussion history or demographic factors. These results are consistent with the notion that beneficial effects of athletic conditioning or training on brain structure and function may be attenuated by exposure to repeated subconcussive head impacts.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
- Clinical Neurology
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Behavioral Neuroscience