MRI-defined white matter microstructural alteration associated with soccer heading is more extensive in women than men

Todd G. Rubin, Eva Catenaccio, Roman Fleysher, Liane E. Hunter, Naomi Lubin, Walter F. Stewart, Mimi Kim, Richard B. Lipton, Michael L. Lipton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Purpose: To examine the role of sex in abnormal white matter microstructure after soccer heading as identified by using the diffusion-tensor imaging (DTI) metric fractional anisotropy (FA). Materials and Methods: In this prospective cross-sectional study, 98 individuals who were enrolled in a larger prospective study of amateur soccer players (from 2013 to 2016) were matched 1:1 for age and history of soccer heading in the prior 12 months. Among the subjects, 49 men (mean age, 25.7 years; range, 18-50 years) and 49 women (mean age, 25.8 years; range, 18-50 years) with median total soccer headings per year of 487 and 469, respectively, underwent 3.0-T DTI. Images were registered to the Johns Hopkins University template. A voxelwise linear regression was fitted for FA with terms for the number of headings during the previous 12 months and its interaction with sex after controlling for the following potential confounders: age, years of education, number of lifetime concussions, and handedness. In the resulting statistical maps, P <.01 indicated a statistically significant difference, with a threshold cluster size larger than 100 mm3. Results: Among men, three regions were identified in which greater heading exposure was associated with lower FA; eight such regions were identified among women (>100 contiguous voxels, P <.01). In seven of the eight regions identified in women, the association between heading and FA was stronger in women than in men. There was no significant difference of heading with FA between the sexes for any region in which heading was associated with FA among men (P >.01, <100 contiguous voxels). Conclusion: With similar exposure to heading, women exhibit more widespread evidence of microstructural white matter alteration than do men, suggesting preliminary support for a biologic divergence of brain response to repetitive trauma.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)478-486
Number of pages9
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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