Shortened telomeres and serum protein biomarker abnormalities in collision sport athletes regardless of concussion history and sex

Georgia F Symons, Meaghan Clough, William T O’Brien, Joel Ernest, Sabrina Salberg, Daniel Costello, Mujun Sun, Rhys D Brady, Stuart J McDonald, David K Wright, Owen B. White, Larry Allen Abel, Terence John O'Brien, Jesse McCullough, Roxanne Aniceto, I. Hsuan Lin, Denes Agoston, Joanne Fielding, Richelle Mychasiuk, Sandy R. Shultz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Mild brain injuries are frequent in athletes engaging in collision sports and have been linked to a range of long-term neurological abnormalities. There is a need to identify how these potential abnormalities manifest using objective measures; determine whether changes are due to concussive and/or sub-concussive injuries; and examine how biological sex affects outcomes. This study investigated cognitive, cellular, and molecular biomarkers in male and female amateur Australian footballers (i.e. Australia’s most participated collision sport). 95 Australian footballers (69 males, 26 females), both with and without a history of concussion, as well as 49 control athletes (28 males, 21 females) with no history of brain trauma or participation in collision sports were recruited to the study. Ocular motor assessment was used to examine cognitive function. Telomere length, a biomarker of cellular senescence and neurological health, was examined in saliva. Serum levels of tau, phosphorylated tau, neurofilament light chain, and 4-hydroxynonenal were used as markers to assess axonal injury and oxidative stress. Australian footballers had reduced telomere length (p = 0.031) and increased serum protein levels of 4-hydroxynonenal (p = 0.001), tau (p = 0.007), and phosphorylated tau (p = 0.036). These findings were independent of concussion history and sex. No significant ocular motor differences were found. Taken together, these findings suggest that engagement in collision sports, regardless of sex or a history of concussion, is associated with shortened telomeres, axonal injury, and oxidative stress. These saliva- and serum-based biomarkers may be useful to monitor neurological injury in collision sport athletes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Concussion
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020

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