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Playing football linked to brain changes

College players have smaller hippocampi, especially if they’ve had concussions

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4:33pm, May 13, 2014

TAKING A HIT  The memory center of the brain is smaller in college football players than in other men who don’t play football or soccer, apparently due to head trauma, a study finds.

A college football player who has been diagnosed with a concussion is likely to have a smaller hippocampus, the memory center of the brain, than a player who hasn’t been so diagnosed, a new study finds. And regardless of whether they’d had concussions, players have smaller hippocampi than men their age who don’t play football and who have no history of brain trauma, the study suggests.

“This is one of the first papers to draw a direct link from concussion to specific tissue changes,” says Dennis Molfese, a neuropsychologist at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, calling the results intriguing.  

Sports-related trauma studies have focused on the hippocampus because some memory deficits are linked to head injuries. But much of that work has investigated people who were middle-aged or older, says Patrick Bellgowan, an experimental psychologist at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, Okla., and the University of Tulsa. 

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