Altered brain functional connectivity in the frontoparietal network following an ice hockey season

Sustaining sports-related head impacts has been reported to result in neurological changes that potentially lead to later-life neurological disease. Advanced neuroimaging techniques have been used to detect subtle neurological effects resulting from head impacts, even after a single competitive season. The current study used resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging to assess changes in functional connectivity of the frontoparietal network, a brain network responsible for executive functioning, in collegiate club ice hockey players over one season. Each player was scanned before and after the season and wore accelerometers to measure head impacts at practices and home games throughout the season. We examined pre- to post-season differences in connectivity within the frontoparietal and default mode networks, as well as the relationship between the total number of head impacts sustained and changes in connectivity. We found a significant interaction between network region of interest and time point (p = .016), in which connectivity between the left and right posterior parietal cortex seed regions increased over the season (p < .01). Number of impacts had a significant effect on frontoparietal network connectivity, such that more impacts were related to greater connectivity differences over the season (p = .042). Overall, functional connectivity increased in ice hockey athletes over a season between regions involved in executive functioning, and sensory integration, in particular. Furthermore, those who sustained more impacts had the greatest changes in connectivity. Consistent with prior findings in resting-state sports-related head impact literature, these findings have been suggested to represent brain injury. Highlights: Functional connectivity of the frontoparietal network significantly increased between the pre- and post-season, which may be a compensatory mechanism driven by neural tissue injury caused by repetitive head impacts. Changes in frontoparietal network connectivity are related to head impact exposure, measured as the number of head impacts sustained in a single season. Functional connectivity of the default mode network did not change over an ice hockey season.
This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in European Journal of Sport Science on 05/08/2022, available at: This article will be embargoed until 05/08/2023.
Injury & Prevention, Neuroscience, Team Sport, Technology
Melissa S. DiFabio, Daniel R. Smith, Katherine M. Breedlove, Ryan T. Pohlig, Thomas A. Buckley & Curtis L. Johnson (2022) Altered brain functional connectivity in the frontoparietal network following an ice hockey season, European Journal of Sport Science, DOI: 10.1080/17461391.2022.2069512