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Football Injuries May Trigger Harmful Immune System Response
Date:3/6/2013

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, March 6 (HealthDay News) -- While repeated concussions are known to cause serious harm to the brain, researchers are now learning that even lesser blows to the head may cause problems later, and an autoimmune response may be the reason why.

Researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center and the Cleveland Clinic have found that blows to the head that don't cause concussions may cause a break in the protective blood-brain barrier, allowing substances to leak from the brain into the body. Since those substances -- in this case a protein associated with traumatic brain injury -- aren't normally found in the body, the immune system sees them as foreign and attacks them, the researchers explained.

"We looked at a group of football players from three different [college] football teams, and looked at the blood for a certain brain protein called S100B," explained study co-author Dr. Jeffrey Bazarian, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. "S100B showed up in the circulation after every practice and every game. None of these kids had concussions though. The only way S100B can find its way into the blood is if the gate between the brain and the blood [the blood-brain barrier] is open."

"We think that just playing football, even without getting a concussion, can open the blood-brain barrier," said Bazarian.

If this protein is repeatedly released into the bloodstream, the body's immune system will eventually take notice of the protein. And, because it's a protein not normally seen in the blood, the immune system may see it as a foreign invader, much like bacteria or viruses. If the immune system feels it's a dangerous foreign substance, it will create antibodies against the protein, presumably to destroy it, which is what these researchers found.

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