BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Health
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Background Briefings 
Medical notes 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Saturday, 2 June, 2001, 23:07 GMT 00:07 UK
Boxing injuries mimic Alzheimer's
Boxers may be putting themselves at risk of Alzheimer's disease
The molecular changes that occur in the brains of "punch drunk" boxers and others who suffer brain injury are the same as those found in Alzheimer's patients.

The finding provides evidence that brain injury may increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's later in life.

One of the classic signs of Alzheimer's disease is the accumulation in the brain of fibrous tangles of a particular type of abnormal body chemicals called tau proteins.

A head injury can increase susceptibility to Alzheimer's later in life

Dr Luise Schmidt
Scientists have discovered that identical tangles are found in patients with the memory disorder Dementia Pugilistica (DP), otherwise known as Punch Drunk - or Boxer's Syndrome.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research (CNDR) compared the brains of people with a genetic history of Alzheimer's with those of former boxers who had developed DP.


Researcher Dr Luise Schmidt said: "Our findings suggest that brain injury can cause Boxer's Syndrome by activating mechanisms like the ones that cause tau lesions in Alzheimer's.

"By extension, it also suggests that a head injury can increase susceptibility to Alzheimer's later in life."

The human brain produces six forms of tau protein, which researchers believe have a role in forming the network of microtubules that serve as a kind of transport system within brain cells.

Alzheimer's Disease and DP are marked by similar physical and memory disorders.

However, although the clumps of abnormal tau proteins are found in both conditions, they tend to form in different parts of the brain.

The researchers believe that, by understanding the similarities in the diseases, they can find the common roots.

Years later

Dr Tracy McIntosh, director of Penn's Head Injury Center said even those people who seemed fine after a head injury might not realise the full impact until years later.

She said: "The effects of these self inflicted brain injuries are not always readily apparent, and we are only beginning to understand the long-term secondary effects of the trauma."

Dr Richard Harvey, director of research at the Alzheimer's Society, said: "This is certainly good evidence showing a direct link between head injuries and the development of Alzheimer's disease.

"We have known for sometime that there is a link but it has never been absolutely clear what was going on at a molecular level in people with head injuries."

Dr Harvey said the work might one day lead to drugs which could be given to people who had suffered accidental head injuries to stop the damaging accumulation of tau proteins in the brain.

The research is published in the journal Acta Neuropathologica.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

24 Apr 01 | Health
10-minute test for Alzheimer's
20 Dec 00 | A-B
Alzheimer's disease
24 May 01 | Health
Brain diseases discovery
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories