Comparison of season-long diffusivity measures in a cohort of non-concussed contact and non-contact athletes

Zachary C. Merz, Laura A. Flashman, James C. Ford, Brenna C. McDonald, Thomas W. McAllister

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Introduction: Concern surrounding short- and long-term consequences of participation in contact sports has become a significant public health topic. Previous literature utilizing diffusion tensor imaging in sports-related concussion has exhibited notable variety of analysis methods and analyzed regions of interest, and largely focuses on acute effects of concussion. The current study aimed to compare diffusivity metrics across a single season within athlete cohorts with no history of concussion. Methods: A prospective cohort of 75 contact and 79 non-contact division I athletes were compared across diffusion tensor imaging metrics (i.e. TRACULA); examinations were also performed assessing the relationship between neuroimaging metrics, head impact exposure metrics (in-helmet accelerometer), and neurocognitive variables. Assessment occurred at pre-and post-season time points. Results: Seasonal changes in fractional anisotropy and mean diffusivity values did not differ between athlete cohorts, nor did they differ within cohort groups, across pre- and post-season scans. Specific to contact athletes, positive associations were found between uncinate fasciculus mean diffusivity values and season linear acceleration (p =.018), season rotational acceleration (p =.017), and season hit severity (p =.021). Conclusions: Results suggest an influence of impact frequency, type, and severity on white matter integrity in select brain regions in contact athletes. Current findings expand our knowledge of anatomical changes over the course of a single season, and underscore the importance of considering methodology when interpreting findings in this population, as differing image analysis techniques may lead to different conclusions regarding significant effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)811-821
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Sep 13 2020


  • Sport-related concussion
  • diffusion tensor imaging
  • white matter integrity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology

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