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Advanced magnetic resonance imaging and neuropsychological assessment for detecting brain injury in a prospective cohort of university amateur boxers

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Hart, MG 
Housden, CR 
Tait, R 
Young, A 


Background/aim: The safety of amateur and professional boxing is a contentious issue. We hypothesised that advanced magnetic resonance imaging and neuropsychological testing could provide evidence of acute and early brain injury in amateur boxers.

Methods: We recruited 30 participants from a university amateur boxing club in a prospective cohort study. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and neuropsychological testing was performed at three time points: prior to starting training; within 48 hours following a first major competition to detect acute brain injury; and one year follow-up. A single MRI acquisition was made from control participants. Imaging analysis included cortical thickness measurements with Advanced Normalization Tools (ANTS) and FreeSurfer, voxel based morphometry (VBM), and Tract Based Spatial Statistics (TBSS). A computerized battery of neuropsychological tests was performed assessing attention, learning, memory and impulsivity.

Results: During the study period, one boxer developed seizures controlled with medication while another developed a chronic subdural hematoma requiring neurosurgical drainage. A total of 10 boxers contributed data at to the longitudinal assessment protocol. Reasons for withdrawal were: logistics (10), stopping boxing (7), withdrawal of consent (2), and development of a chronic subdural hematoma (1). No significant changes were detected using VBM, TBSS, cortical thickness measured with FreeSurfer or ANTS, either cross-sectionally at baseline, or longitudinally. Neuropsychological assessment of boxers found attention/concentration improved over time while planning and problem solving ability latency decreased after a bout but recovered after one year.

Conclusion: While this neuroimaging and neuropsychological assessment protocol could not detect any evidence of brain injury, one boxer developed seizures and another developed a chronic sub-dural haematoma.



boxing, neuroimaging, brain structure, CANTAB

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NeuroImage: Clinical

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Medical Research Council (G0401099)
TCC (None)
PJH is supported by a NIHR Research Professorship. VFJN is supported by a Health Foundation / Academy of Medical Sciences Clinician Scientist Fellowship. BJS holds a grant from the NIHR Brain Injury Healthcare Technology Co-operative. This study was supported through the Cambridge National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre (BRC). Control data were acquired with the support of the Medical Research Council as part of their Addiction Initiative (grant number G1000018), and a Pathfinder award from Medical Research Council (G0401099).