Post-Traumatic Headache, Concussion, and Lou Gehrig's Disease
Not too long ago, I wrote an article about post-traumatic headache (PTH), which is headache following head trauma (see Post-Traumatic Headache - The Basics). Since PTH can be caused by a concussion, the question of whether Lou Gehrig's concussions played a role in his developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig's Disease. ALS is considered to be a motor neuron disease.
On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig shared devastating news with the crowd at Yankee Stadium. He told them he was dying. He told them,
"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got... Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth."1
Gehrig played 2,130 consecutive games in his career. What's more, today - more than 70 years later, he still holds the record for the most grand slams.
A recent study published in the Journal of Neuropathology & Experimental Neurology takes a look at evidence that the incidence of ALS increases with a history of head injury, including concussion.2
In this study, McKee et. al. discovered an abnormal protein in the brain and spinal cord of three study subjects. Two subjects were former professional football players; the third was a former boxer. All had a history of repeated head trauma during their careers, and the football players were diagnosed with ALS before their deaths. As a result of this study, the authors state,
"This is the first pathological evidence that repetitive head trauma experienced in collision sports might be associated with the development of a motor neuron disease... When we looked at these three individuals, they had this hideous abnormal protein called TDP-43... Large amounts in the spinal cord and brain."2
This is early research, and it was a small study. Still, the possibility that physical trauma to the brain could contribute to or even make someone more likely to develop motor neuron diseases such as ALS is fascinating. There is still so much to learn about the brain. In Star Trek, space was called "the final frontier." Research such as this makes me think, "The brain. The final frontier."
1 Smith, Stephanie. "Did concussions play role in Lou Gehrig's disease?" CNN.com. August 17, 2010.
2 McKee, Ann C. MD; Gavett, Brandon E. PhD; Stern, Robert A. PhD; Nowinski, Christopher J. AB; Cantu, Robert C. MD; Kowall, Neil W. MD; Perl, Daniel P. MD; Hedley-Whyte, E. Tessa MD; Price, Bruce MD; Sullivan, Chris; Morin, Peter MD, PhD; Lee, Hyo-Soon MD; Kubilus, Caroline A.; Daneshvar, Daniel H. MA; Wulff, Megan MPH; Budson, Andrew E. MD. "TDP-43 Proteinopathy and Motor Neuron Disease in Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy." Journal of Neuropathology & Experimental Neurology. Published-Ahead-of-Print. July, 2010.
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