SAN DIEGO (Wire Service) – An examination of the brain of former Chargers linebacker Junior Seau showed evidence of a degenerative disorder seen before in people who have suffered repetitive head injuries, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke announced today, January 10.
Seau, a fan favorite who died last May of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 43, played in 20 National Football League seasons, along with college ball at USC and in high school in his native Oceanside.
His family donated his brain to the National Institutes of Health, which includes the NINDS, and they authorized release of the results.
Seau’s brain looked normal upon initial viewing, but neuropathologists using microscopes discovered that a normal brain protein called Tau had folded into tangled masses, like it does in brain cells of patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other progressive neurological disorders, according to an agency-issued statement.
The statement said that the way the Tau tangles were distributed in the brain led to a diagnosis of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
CTE has been found previously in autopsies of people who have suffered repetitive head injuries, including athletes who played contact sports, people who suffered multiple concussions and military veterans exposed to blast injuries.
The football star’s 23-year-old son told U-T San Diego that he wished he was aware of CTE more so he could have helped.
“I don’t think any of us were aware of the side effects that could be going on with head trauma until he passed away,” Tyler Seau said. “We didn’t know his behavior was from head trauma.”
He told the newspaper that his father suffered from “wild mood swings, irrationality, forgetfulness, insomnia and depression that got progressively worse over time.”
The NINDS statement said research into CTE is still in an early stage, and physicians cannot make a diagnosis in a living person. NINDS also expressed gratitude to the Seau family for the research opportunity.