New York: Even playing a solitary season of American football could lead to abnormalities in the brain structure of youth, that too without suffering a concussion, says a new research. "This study adds to the growing body of evidence that a season of play in a contact sport can affect the brain," said Christopher Whitlow, associate professor of radiology at Wake Forest School of Medicine in America.

For the study, the researchers studied 24 high school football players between the ages of 16 and 18. All players underwent pre-and post-season evaluation with diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) of the brain. DTI is an advanced MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) technique, which identifies micro-structural changes in the brain's white matter.

The brain's white matter is composed of millions of nerve fibres called axons that act like communication cables connecting various regions of the brain. Diffusion tensor imaging produces a measurement, called fractional anisotropy (FA), of the movement of water molecules along axons.

"Our study found that players experiencing greater levels of head impacts have more FA loss compared to players with lower impact exposure," Whitlow said. "Similar brain MRI changes have been previously associated with mild traumatic brain injury. However, it is unclear whether or not these effects will be associated with any negative long-term consequences," Whitlow added. The study was presented at the ongoing annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) in Chicago.