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From left are Matt Birk, Lofa Tatupu and Sean Morey, who agreed to donate their brains after death to a Boston University medical school program that studies sports brain injuries. ((Associated Press))

Three active NFL players will donate their brains after death to a Boston University medical school program that studies sports brain injuries.

Centre Matt Birk of the Baltimore Ravens, linebacker Lofa Tatupu of the Seattle Seahawks and receiver Sean Morey of the Arizona Cardinals join 40 retired NFL players already in the program's brain donation registry, the university announced Monday.

"One of the most profound actions I can take personally is to donate my brain to help ensure the safety and welfare of active, retired, and future athletes for decades to come," Morey said.

The program takes brain and spinal cord tissue donations so researchers can better understand the long-term effects of repeated concussions.

Brain trauma is a growing health concern, after the discovery of the neurodegenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy in a number of athletes. The condition can lead to memory loss, emotional instability, erratic behaviour, depression and impulse control problems, and can gradually lead to dementia and in some cases death. The disease results from repetitive trauma to the brain.

As part of the program all three players will be interviewed annually for the rest of their lives so doctors can examine the relationship between clinical symptoms and pathology.

The donations met the praise of the centre's co-director Chris Nowinski.

"These active NFL players have admirably ignored concerns held by many athletes that by participating in this research, they could be perceived as having a concussion history that could negatively affect their career and contract negotiations," he said.

The centre was created in 2008 as a collaborative venture between BU and the Sports Legacy Institute.