Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
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White matter tracts are known to be susceptible to injury following concussion. The objective of this study was to determine whether contact play in sport could alter white matter metabolite levels in female varsity athletes independent of changes induced by long-term exercise. Metabolite levels were measured by single voxel proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) in the prefrontal white matter at the beginning (In-Season) and end (Off-Season) of season in contact (N = 54, rugby players) and non-contact (N = 23, swimmers and rowers) varsity athletes. Sedentary women (N = 23) were scanned once, at a time equivalent to the Off-Season time point. Metabolite levels in non-contact athletes did not change over a season of play, or differ from age matched sedentary women except that non-contact athletes had a slightly lower myo-inositol level. The contact athletes had lower levels of myo-inositol and glutamate, and higher levels of glutamine compared to both sedentary women and non-contact athletes. Lower levels of myo-inositol in non-contact athletes compared to sedentary women indicates long-term exercise may alter glial cell profiles in these athletes. The metabolite differences observed between contact and non-contact athletes suggest that non-contact athletes should not be used as controls in studies of concussion in high-impact sports because repetitive impacts from physical contact can alter white matter metabolite level profiles. It is imperative to use athletes engaged in the same contact sport as controls to ensure a matched metabolite profile at baseline.