In Vivo Protocol of Controlled Subconcussive Head Impacts for the Validation of Field Study Data

This article has been accepted and is currently in production


Subconcussive hits pose a threat to neuronal health as they have shown to induce neuronal structural damage and functional impairment without causing outward symptomology and appear to be a key contributor to an irreversible neurodegenerative disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). In addition, athletes can incur more than 1,000 of these hits per season. The subconcussive soccer heading model (SSHM) is a relevant, reproducible, and leading method of isolating and examining the effects of these subconcussive head impacts. By controlling variables such as ball traveling speed, the frequency of impacts, interval, ball placement to the head, as well as by measuring head impact magnitude, the SSHM provides the scientific community with a superior avenue of investigating the acute subconcussive effects on neuronal health. In this paper, we demonstrate the utility of SSHM in studying a time-course expression of neurofilament-light polypeptide (NF-L) in plasma in a repeated measures fashion. NF-L is an axonal injury marker that has previously been shown to be elevated in boxers and football players following subconcussive head trauma. Thirty-four adult aged soccer players were recruited and randomly assigned to either a soccer heading (n = 18) or kicking (n = 16) group. The heading group executed 10 headers with soccer balls projected at a velocity of 25 mph over 10 min. The kicking group followed the same protocol with 10 kicks. Plasma samples were obtained before and at 0 h, 2 h, and 24 h after heading/kicking and assessed for NF-L expressions. The heading group showed a gradual increase in plasma NF-L expression and peaked at 24 h after the heading protocol, whereas the kicking group remained consistent across the time points. These results confirmed the NF-L data from clinical field studies, encouraging the use of SSHM to validate clinical subconcussion data.