There appears to be a connection between head injuries in athletes and Lou Gehrig's disease, according to a new study.
Boston University neurology professor Dr. Ann McKee found toxic proteins in the spinal cords of three athletes who suffered head injuries during their careers and later died of Lou Gehrig's disease, also called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), the Associated Press reported.
The same toxic proteins have been found in the brains of athletes with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). This condition is associated with head injuries and patients experience abnormal behaviour, cognitive decline and dementia.
McKee launched her study after noticing that ALS appears to affect an unusually high number of football players. People with ALS lose the ability to move and speak as the disease attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
She analyzed the brains and spinal cords of former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Wally Hilgenberg, former Southern California linebacker Eric Scoggins, and an unnamed boxer, the AP reported. All of them died of ALS.
The spines of all three athletes contained the toxic proteins. But these proteins were not present in the spines of athletes who had CTE but not ALS, nor in non-athletes who died of ALS.
The study appears in the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology. (Sapa, August 2010)