Adding to this site’s archived summaries of studies addressing safety issues in combat sports, a recent study was published in the Journal of Neuroradiology canvassing the extent of objective white matter disturbance in the brains of amateur boxers compared to a control group.
The study, titled Reduced White Matter Integrity in Amateur Boxers, posed the question of whether amateur boxers would have white matter disturbance detectable on imaging given the greater safety protocols in place at the amateur level. The study conducted diffusion tensor imaging of the brains of 31 amateur boxers an compared these to a non boxing peer group.
The study found that “revealed widespread white matter disturbance partially related to the individual fighting history in amateur boxers. These findings closely resemble those in patients with accidental TBI and indicate similar histological changes in amateur boxers.”
The full abstract is reproduced below –
Professional boxing can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a variant of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Its occurrence in amateur boxers is a matter of debate since amateur boxing is considered to be less harmful due to more strict regulations. However, several studies using different methodological approaches have revealed subtle signs of TBI even in amateurs. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) is sensitive to microscopic white matter changes and has been proven useful in TBI when routine MR imaging often is unrevealing.
DTI, with tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) together with neuropsychological examination of executive functions and memory, was used to investigate a collective of 31 male amateur boxers and 31 age-matched controls as well as a subgroup of 19 individuals, respectively, who were additionally matched for intellectual performance (IQ).
All participants had normal findings in neurological examination and conventional MR. Amateur boxers did not show deficits in neuropsychological tests when their IQ was taken into account. Fractional anisotropy was significantly reduced, while diffusivity measures were increased along central white matter tracts in the boxers group. These changes were in part associated with the number of fights.
TBSS revealed widespread white matter disturbance partially related to the individual fighting history in amateur boxers. These findings closely resemble those in patients with accidental TBI and indicate similar histological changes in amateur boxers.