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Boston researchers who studied the brains of 202 deceased football players have published the most detailed portrait to date of the devastation wrought by a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated blows to the head.

In Tuesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association, a team from the Boston University School of Medicine and the VA Boston Healthcare System documented the troubling behavior, disturbed moods, and impaired thinking in people who had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

Such difficulties were found even in some high school players, but college, semi-professional, and professional players had the most severe cases.

The study presents the largest number of CTE cases ever published and puts to rest any remaining arguments about whether the disease exists, said the study’s lead author, Dr. Ann C. McKee, director of BU’s CTE Center and chief of neuropathology at the Boston VA.

“It’s impossible to ignore this anymore,” McKee said.

Dr. David L. Brody, neurology professor at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said the new study deepens and solidifies researchers’ understanding of CTE. Similar findings have been observed previously, “but never on this scale, and never so systematically,” said Brody, who was not involved with this study but has collaborated with McKee on other research.

CTE is believed to occur when multiple hits to the head, including those that don’t cause a concussion or produce symptoms, trigger a degenerative process in the brain that years or decades later can cause disabling symptoms.


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