Serum neurofilament light chain acts as biomarker for detecting brain injury

July 11, 2020 0 By FM

Serum levels of neurofilament light chain (NfL) may be a potential blood biomarker that could detect mild, moderate, and severe cases of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and its recovery, suggests researchers at the National Institutes of Health. The results are published online in the journal of Neurology.

The team revealed that following a TBI the neurofilament light chain break away from neurons in the brain and collects in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The scientists confirmed that NfL also accumulated in the blood at levels that closely correlated with the levels seen in the CSF. 

The team demonstrated that the NfL in the blood could detect brain injury and predict recovery across all stages of TBI in the participants. In the clinic-based patients, the levels of blood NfL at five years after a single mild, moderate, or severe TBI were significantly increased compared to healthy controls.

NfL also delivered superior diagnostic and prognostic performance when compared to blood proteins glial fibrillary acidic protein, tau, and ubiquitin c-terminal hydrolase-L1 noted the authors.

The proteins were compared on their ability to distinguish patients with TBI from each other and controls, determine brain injury from 30 days to five years after the injury, predict functional outcomes, and compliment advanced brain imaging.

The findings showed that serum NfL was the only protein that distinguished TBI patients from uninjured controls with high accuracy even months to years after the injury, suggesting that a single TBI may cause long-term neuroaxonal degeneration. Serum NfL also showed a high association with advanced brain imaging, such as diffusion tensor MRI scans, compared to other proteins providing clinicians with an easier and faster prognostic option than advanced brain imaging.

“This study confirms the sensitivity of serum neurofilament light chain and its value as a biomarker of choice for all stages of brain injury, even when measured months to years after a single mild, moderate or severe traumatic brain injury,” said Leighton Chan, M.D., M.P.H., chief of the Rehabilitation Medicine Department at the NIH Clinical Center.