Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the brain of individuals who have suffered repetitive brain trauma.  

CTE is found in some football players and other athletes who have sustained frequent and repetitive head trauma. The term was first used as a diagnosis in 2005.


In 2002, Dr. Bennet Omalu, a neuropathologist, performed an autopsy on Mike Webster, a retired center for the NFL Pittsburgh Steelers who had exhibited progressive dementia in middle age. On examining slides of his brain taken during the autopsy, Dr. Omalu discovered abnormal accumulations of tau proteins, with topographic patterns different from other degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer disease.

In 2005 Dr. Omalu, coauthored an article about these findings titled, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in a National Football League Player, in the Journal of Neurosurgery,  It was the first time the term chronic traumatic encephalopathy was used as a diagnosis. It had previously been used as a descriptive term only.

The Name

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a good example of how ancient words are used to name a modern disease.

  • chronic means disease that lasts a long time and is derived from the Greek word chronos meaning time, and has existed since the time of Hippocrates
  • traumatic means occurring as a result of injury and is derived from the term trauma an ancient Greek word that means, then as now, injury
  • encephalopathy means disease of the brain. It comprises Greek word parts en meaning incephal meaning head; path meaning disease

CTE is now used as a diagnosis by physicians and in the medical literature.  Currently, 87 former football players have tested positive for the disease.  Research is ongoing and one area of study is focused on using PET scans to diagnose the disease in the living.

More Information

What is CTE?

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy in a National Football League player.

Concussions and the NFL: How the name came about

CTE | NIH Director’s Blog

Frontline Interview: Dr. Omalu


Read Other New Terms Posts >

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