Studies have indicated that concussive and sub-concussive brain injuries that are frequent during collision sports may lead to long-term neurological abnormalities, however there is a knowledge gap on how biological sex modifies outcomes. Blood-based biomarkers can help to identify the molecular pathology induced by brain injuries and to better understand how biological sex affects the molecular changes. We therefore analyzed serum protein biomarkers in male (n = 50) and female (n = 33) amateur Australian rules footballers (i.e., Australia's most participated collision sport), both with a history of concussion (HoC) and without a history of concussion (NoHoC). These profiles were compared to those of age-matched control male (n = 24) and female (n = 20) athletes with no history of neurotrauma or participation in collision sports. Serum levels of protein markers indicative of neuronal, axonal and glial injury (UCH-L1, NfL, tau, p-tau, GFAP, BLBP, PEA15), metabolic (4-HNE) and vascular changes (VEGF-A, vWF, CLDN5), and inflammation (HMGB1) were assessed using reverse phase protein microarrays. Male, but not female, footballers had increased serum levels of VEGF-A compared to controls regardless of concussion history. In addition, only male footballers who had HoC had increased serum levels of 4-HNE. These findings being restricted to males may be related to shorter collision sport career lengths for females compared to males. In summary, these findings show that male Australian rules footballers have elevated levels of serum biomarkers indicative of vascular abnormalities (VEGF-A) and oxidative stress (4-HNE) in comparison to non-collision control athletes. While future studies are required to determine how these findings relate to neurological function, serum levels of VEGF-A and 4-HNE may be useful to monitor subclinical neurological injury in males participating in collision sports.
- mild TBI
- vascular injury
- VEGF–vascular endothelial growth factor