Previous neuroimaging studies have identified structural brain abnormalities in active professional fighters with repetitive head trauma and correlated these changes with fighters' neuropsychological impairments. However, functional brain changes in these fighters derived using neuroimaging techniques remain unclear. In this study, both static and dynamic functional connectivity alterations were investigated (1) between healthy normal control subjects (NC) and fighters and (2) between non-impaired and impaired fighters. Resting-state fMRI data were collected on 35 NC and 133 active professional fighters, including 68 impaired fighters and 65 non-impaired fighters, from the Professional Fighters Brain Health Study at our center. Impaired fighters performed worse on processing speed (PSS) tasks with visual-attention and working-memory demands. The static functional connectivity (sFC) matrix was estimated for every pair of regions of interest (ROI) using a subject-specific parcellation. The dynamic functional connectivity (dFC) was estimated using a sliding-window method, where the variability of each ROI pair across all windows represented the temporal dynamics. A linear regression model was fitted for all 168 subjects, and different t-contrast vectors were used for between-group comparisons. An association analysis was further conducted to evaluate FC changes associated with PSS task performances without creating artificial impairment group-divisions in fighters. Following corrections for multiple comparisons using network-based statistics, our study identified significantly reduced long-range frontal-temporal, frontal-occipital, temporal-occipital, and parietal-occipital sFC strengths in fighters than in NCs, corroborating with previously observed structural damages in corresponding white matter tracts in subjects experiencing repetitive head trauma. In impaired fighters, significantly decreased sFC strengths were found among key regions involved in visual-attention, executive and cognitive process, as compared to non-impaired fighters. Association analysis further reveals similar sFC deficits to worse PSS task performances in all 133 fighters. With our choice of dFC indices, we were not able to observe any significant dFC changes beyond a trend-level increased temporal variability among similar regions with weaker sFC strengths in impaired fighters. Collectively, our functional brain findings supplement previously reported structural brain abnormalities in fighters and are important to comprehensively understand brain changes in fighters with repetitive head trauma.
- processing speed
- psychomotor speed
- repetitive head trauma
- static & dynamic functional connectivity