A Prospective Transcranial Doppler Ultrasound-Based Evaluation of the Effects of Repetitive Subconcussive Head Trauma on Neurovascular Coupling Dynamics

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Objective:To determine the effects of repetitive subconcussive head trauma on neurovascular coupling (NVC) responses.Design:Prospective cohort study collected between September 2013 and December 2016.Setting:University laboratory.Participants:One hundred seventy-nine elite, junior-level (age, 19.6 ± 1.5 years) contact sport (ice hockey, American football) athletes recruited for preseason testing. Fifty-two nonconcussed athletes returned for postseason testing. Fifteen noncontact sport athletes (age, 20.4 ± 2.2 years) also completed preseason and postseason testing.Exposure(s):Subconcussive sport-related head trauma.Main Outcome Measures:Dynamics of NVC were estimated during cycles of 20 seconds eyes closed and 40 seconds eyes open to a visual stimulus (reading) by measuring cerebral blood flow (CBF) velocity in the posterior (PCA) and middle (MCA) cerebral arteries via transcranial Doppler ultrasound.Results:Both athlete groups demonstrated no significant differences in PCA or MCA NVC dynamics between preseason and postseason, despite exposure to a median of 353.5 (range, 295.0-587.3) head impacts (>2g) over the course of the season for contact sport athletes.Conclusions:Within the context of growing concern over detrimental effects of repetitive subconcussive trauma, the current results encouragingly suggest that the dynamics of NVC responses are not affected by 1 season of participation in junior-level ice hockey or American football. This is an important finding because it indicates an appropriate postseason CBF response to elevated metabolic demand with increases in neural activity.

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