Junior Seau had a degenerative brain disease when he committed suicide last May, the National Institutes of Health said Thursday.
Several neuropathologists began an examination of the former Chargers linebacker’s brain in July when it was donated by his family, the NIH said in a statement.
The institute said that its findings were “consistent with a form of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.”
“The official, unanimous diagnosis of Mr. Seau’s brain was a ‘multi-focal tauopathy consistent with a diagnosis of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.’ In addition there was a very small region in the left frontal lobe of the brain with evidence of scarring that is consistent with a small, old, traumatic brain injury,” read the statement.
ABC News was the first to report the results of the NIH study, saying Seau’s family reported he became withdrawn and emotionally detached from his children in recent years.
Commenting on the diagnosis, ex-wife Gina Seau told ABC: “A lot of things, towards the end of his life, patterns that we saw and things that worried us. It makes sense now.”
The Associated Press quoted Seau’s 23-year-old son Tyler as saying: “I was not surprised after learning a little about CTE that he had it. He did play so many years at that level. I was more just kind of angry I didn't do something more and have the awareness to help him more, and now it is too late.
“I don’t think any of us were aware of the side effects that could be going on with head trauma until he passed away. We didn’t know his behavior was from head trauma.”
The NIH statement continued: “The type of findings seen in Mr. Seau’s brain have been recently reported in autopsies of individuals with exposure to repetitive head injury, including professional and amateur athletes who played contact sports, individuals with multiple concussions, and veterans exposed to blast injury and other trauma.”
CTE was first found when researchers studied boxers and more recently, among people with repetitive head injury, according to NIH. NIH added that CTE research is in a “very early state” and phsyicians are currently unable to diagnose the disease in a living person and can only be confirmed by examining the brains during an autopsy.
“Investigators at NIH are now attempting to correlate brain tissue pathology with detailed images taken with the NIH’s high resolution 7 Tesla MRI scanner. Only research will reveal answers to the vexing problems that this condition presents," read the statement.
Seau, who lived in Oceanside during the time of his death, committed suicide May 2 at the age of 43. He was found by his girlfriend in his beachfront home, according to an autopsy by the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office.
He was a 12-time Pro Bowl selection, and a 10-time All-Pro. He was drafted by the Chargers with the fifth overall pick in the 1990 NFL Draft out of the University of Southern California. In November 2011, he was inducted into the Chargers Hall of Fame.
The Chargers deferred comment and referred to a statement from the NFL, which said the findings showed a need for further understanding of CTE.
"The NFL, both directly and in partnership with the NIH, Centers for Disease Control and other leading organizations, is committed to supporting a wide range of independent medical and scientific research that will both address CTE and promote the long-term health and safety of athletes at all levels," the NFL statement says.
"The NFL clubs have already committed a $30 million research grant to the NIH, and we look forward to making decisions soon with the NFL Players Association on the investment of $100 million for medical research that is committed in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. We have work to do, and we're doing it."
-City News Service contributed to this report