Diagnosing CTE in Living Patients

Earlier this year our News Blog included a study looking at the brains of former American footballers, which found chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was present in 110 of 111 footballers who had played in the National Football League (NFL).[1] [2] However, this can only be seen during autopsy, and, at present, we are only able to make a presumptive diagnosis of CTE while the patient is alive. Now a study published in Neurosurgery [3] has found that it may be possible to diagnose CTE in living patients. PET imaging was conducted on the brain of a footballer 52 months prior to this death, and after autopsy, it was found that data from the PET scan (showing the level of binding of a molecular imaging probe) correlated significantly with deposition of tau proteins in the brain (P=0.02). Although this is only a single patient, further investigation is warranted, which could confirm whether PET scanning is a useful diagnostic tool in patients at high-risk of CTE – not only American footballers, but also military personnel.

— Peter Chilton, Research Fellow


  1. Lilford RJ. Two Hundred and Two Ex-(American) Footballers’ Brains Analysed After Death – This You Must Read. NIHR CLAHRC West Midlands News Blog. 15 September 2017.
  2. Mez J, Daneshvar DH, Kiernan PT, et al. Clinopathological Evaluation of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in Players of American Football. JAMA. 2017; 318(4): 360-70.
  3. Omalu B, Small GW, Bailes J, et al. Postmortem Autopsy-Confirmation of Antemortem [F-18]FDDNP-PET Scans in a Football Player With Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. 2017.

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