But, Bazarian added that the researchers only know for sure that there's an immune response. They really don't know whether it's a damaging response or even a protective one at this point.
The issue of repeated blows to the head during play came to the forefront last year after the former National Football League star linebacker Junior Seau killed himself. It was later found that he had a catastrophic brain disorder thought to be caused by repeated blows to the head.
Because so many athletes suffer less serious hits to the head, Bazarian and his colleagues wanted to assess how these types of hits might affect the brain and body.
Blood samples were collected from 67 players before and after games. The number of hits to the head was assessed through video review, and asking players how many times they'd been hit in the head. Ten of the players also underwent brain imaging.
They found that the more hits to the head a player took, the higher the levels of S100B. They also had higher levels of the antibodies. Players who usually sat on the bench had lower levels of these markers.
Researchers also noted changes in brain imaging that correlated with higher levels of S100B, according to the study.
"This is yet another piece of information showing that sub-concussive blows can potentially be bad. It might not be the injury itself, but the immune response that happens after," said Bazarian, who added that if other studies confirm these findings, it might be possible to develop a vaccine against these antibodies.
But, he said, a lot of research remains to be done. "This is a very first step. We need to know if there are other proteins released into the blood. And, is there a genetic susceptibility that causes an exaggerated response in some people? This is all work that needs to be done," he said.
Dr. Steven Galetta, chair o
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