Issue 37, April 2013
bulletSports-Related Head Injuries and Memory
bulletHeading for Trouble? Interview with Dr. med. Inga Katharina Koerte
bulletBrain Functions after Sports-Related Concussions
bulletCardiovascular Fitness Can Increase Memory in Middle-Aged Adults
bulletSleep Consolidates New Memories in Adolescents
bulletInnovation: The Armchair as a Fitness Trainer
article1Sports-Related Head Injuries and Memory
Of the 1,330,000 sports injuries that occur each year in Germany, 13% are head injuries and the majority of these happen on the soccer field. Concussions, the most common of sports-related head injuries, are often caused by falls or fouls.

A joint study conducted by researchers from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München and Harvard University revealed possible long-term implications resulting from heading in soccer. The article is entitled "White Matter Integrity in the Brains of Professional Soccer Players without Symptomatic Concussion" and the results of this research are especially important for soccer-loving Germany, where Fussball is the leading national sport.
The implications of concussions vary from short-term effects, such as dizziness and nausea, to long-term effects like depression and memory loss. The severity, however, is age-dependent. Head injuries that occur at a young age are more likely to have long-term implications. As a reaction to the latest scientific research, sports leagues have started to introduce new regulations.    

The German Ice Hockey League, for example, included new rules, punishing its players with fines and bans from future games, should they conduct fouls on heads or necks. In the U.S., the National Football League and General Electric teamed up to foster research in this field and to further raise awareness of the severity of sports-related head injuries. On a global scale, this increased awareness already paid off at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, which reported significantly fewer head injuries than in 2002.

The GCRI will host an event on "The Future of Contact Sports: Sports-Related Head Injuries and Their Effects on Memory" on June 3, 2013. The discussion will feature Dr. Inga Katharina Koerte, with whom we conducted the GCRI Interview below.

Dr. Inga Katharina Koerte
article2Heading for Trouble? Interview with Dr. med. Inga Katharina Koerte

Soccer is the most popular sport in the world with more than 250 million active players. It is also the only game in which players' unprotected heads come in contact regularly with the ball. A Munich University Hospital and Harvard Medical School study compared the brains of professional soccer players and swimmers to investigate white matter brain alterations, particularly in areas involved in attention and memory.

Dr. Inga Katharina Koerte, the first author of this study, is one of the researchers who detected clear signs of brain tissue alterations in professional soccer players who had not suffered from concussions before. "The changes we saw resemble those observed in patients suffering from concussions, except that they are less pronounced," she said. In this GCRI Interview, Dr. Koerte discusses these results and the effect of sports-related injuries on memory.

Dr. Koerte is a radiology resident and senior research fellow at the University Hospital Munich of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München. She is also a visiting lecturer at Harvard Medical School, where she completed a fellowship at the Psychiatry Neuroimaging Laboratory at Brigham and Women's Hospital. The laboratory's director, Prof. Dr. Martha Shenton, co-authored the study, which can be found here.

On June 3, 2013, Dr. Koerte and Prof. Shenton will speak on sports-related head injuries and their effects on the brain. The event will take place at the German Center for Research and Innovation. Information will be posted on our website soon.

To read the interview, click here.

Soccer players heading the ball
article3Brain Functions after Sports-Related Concussions

Source: German Sport University Cologne, Department of Neurology, Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychiatry, Institute of Health Promotion and Clinical Movement Science, Current Granted Research Projects

Cerebral concussions are common incidents in sports, and there is a growing list of athletes who have to end their careers prematurely due to the effects of multiple concussions.

The impact of concussions on brain function is a major point of concern, since experts working on the care and treatment of athletes still consider the diagnosis and management of concussions to be the most difficult and challenging task. Although behavioral problems, such as reduced memory functions and problems with balance are evident, further implications remain unseen and untreated.

To decide whether or when an athlete is ready to return to the field, neuroimaging data is indispensable. Yet, conventional brain imaging techniques are characterized by technical disadvantages, making it impossible to gain neurobiological insights into the most sensitive marker of concussion: a positive Romberg sign (= loss of motor coordination).

A study at the German Sport University Cologne investigates brain functions after sports-related concussions, using Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS).

It has been previously shown that NIRS is able to measure brain oxygenation during upright standing postures. But it has never been investigated whether a neuronal correlate of concussed subjects suffering from positive Romberg signs exists. The study thereby addresses this shortcoming by investigating brain oxygenation, behavioral and biochemical correlates of concussed individuals during bipedal standing postures.

Exercise gear
article4Cardiovascular Fitness Can Increase Memory in Middle-Aged Adults

For years, exercise has been discussed as a promising approach to preventing and reducing age-related cognitive decline.

Researchers have already proven that a few months of physical exercise in previously sedentary human adults can improve cognitive performance.
Dr. Kirsten Hötting, Prof. Dr. Brigitte Röder and Gesche Schauenburg from the University of Hamburg investigated whether cardiovascular fitness was linked to cognitive variables, such as increased memory. 

For this study, 25 healthy adults, ages 42 to 57, participated in a follow-up assessment. This evaluation was conducted one year after the participants completed a six-month supervised exercise program that included a cycling or a stretching/coordination training routine.

Participants with higher cardiovascular fitness maintained their training-induced, enhanced long-term memory scores. For participants with lower cardiovascular fitness, memory functions decreased. This demonstrates a direct link between memory and cardiovascular fitness - and suggests that regular physical exercise might positively affect memory.
The study entitled "Long-Term Effects of Physical Exercise on Verbal Learning and Memory in Middle-Aged Adults" can be found here.

Girl sleeping with book in hand
article5Sleep Consolidates New Memories in Adolescents

Sleep after learning has been shown to foster the consolidation of new memories. But does the amount of elapsed time between learning and sleeping make a difference?  

A research team led by Prof. Dr. Ulrich Voderholzer tested the hypothesis that learning directly before night-time sleep, compared to 7.5 hours prior to night-time sleep, provides better conditions for the consolidation of declarative and procedural memories.

In this study, 50 girls, ages 16 to 17, trained on a declarative word-pair and a procedural finger-tapping task at 3 p.m. (afternoon group, 25 participants) or at 9 p.m. (evening group, 25 participants). Following the learning experience, the girls spent one night at the sleep laboratory.

24 hours and seven days after the initial training, the information retrieval was assessed. After 24 hours, the 25 participants of the afternoon group showed a significantly elevated retention rate of word pairs compared to the participants of the evening group. After seven days, off-line gains in finger-tapping performance were significantly higher in the 25 girls trained in the evening, compared to those trained in the afternoon after both retention intervals.

For more information, click here

Fraunhofer GEWOS armchair
article6Innovation: The Armchair as a Fitness Trainer

The Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits ISS project GEWOS developed an exercise armchair for senior citizens who wish to exercise in the comfort of their homes.

The armchair, which looks and feels like a conventional armchair, is equipped with sensors and circuit boards, allowing it measure key body functions and determine correct sitting posture. A tablet PC applied to the armchair transmits this recorded data to the TV via Bluetooth and WiFi connection. On the TV screen, the user can then view pulse rate, blood oxygen saturation, blood pressure or weight.

A virtual health assistant analyzes this data to custom-tailor an exercise program, for which the armchair transforms into a rowing machine similar to the ones in fitness studios. "The armrests become the oars and a support for the rower's feet pops out below the seat," according to Sven Feilner from the Fraunhofer IIS Image Processing and Medical Technology Department in Erlangen, Germany. During exercise, the virtual assistant records the individual's progress and vital signs to recommend corrections or more exercise.

In 2012, GEWOS was tested by 100 senior citizens at the Ambient Assisted Living Conference and ranked first among 14 different assistance products. In March 2013, visitors at CeBIT, the world's largest trade fair showcasing digital IT and telecommunications solutions for home and work environments, also tested the exercise armchair.

For more information, click here.