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Papers of the Week

Papers: 2 Apr 2022 - 8 Apr 2022

Human Studies

2022 Apr 04


Post-acute blood biomarkers and disease progression in traumatic brain injury.


Newcombe VFJ, Ashton NJ, Posti JP, Glocker B, Manktelow A, Chatfield DA, Winzeck S, Needham E, Correia MM, Williams GB, Simrén J, Takala RSK, Katila AJ, Maanpää H-R, Tallus J, Frantzén J, Blennow K, Tenovuo O, Zetterberg H, Menon DK
Brain. 2022 Apr 04.
PMID: 35377407.


There is substantial interest in the potential for traumatic brain injury to result in progressive neurological deterioration. While blood biomarkers such as glial fibrillary acid protein and neurofilament light have been widely explored in characterising acute traumatic brain injury, their use in the chronic phase is limited. Given increasing evidence that these proteins may be markers of ongoing neurodegeneration in a range of diseases, we examined their relationship to imaging changes and functional outcome in the months to years following traumatic brain injury. Two-hundred and three patients were recruited in two separate cohorts; six months post-injury (n=165); and >5 years post-injury (n=38; 12 of whom also provided data ∼8 months post-TBI). Subjects underwent blood biomarker sampling (n=199) and magnetic resonance imaging (n=172; including diffusion tensor imaging). Data from patient cohorts were compared to 59 healthy volunteers and 21 non-brain injury trauma controls. Mean diffusivity and fractional anisotropy were calculated in cortical grey matter, deep grey matter and whole brain white matter. Accelerated brain ageing was calculated at a whole brain level as the predicted age difference defined using T1-weighted images, and at a voxel-based level as the annualised Jacobian determinants in white matter and grey matter, referenced to a population of 652 healthy control subjects. Serum neurofilament light concentrations were elevated in the early chronic phase. While GFAP values were within the normal range at ∼8 months, many patients showed a secondary and temporally distinct elevations up to >5 years after injury. Biomarker elevation at six months was significantly related to metrics of microstructural injury on diffusion tensor imaging. Biomarker levels at ∼8 months predicted white matter volume loss at >5 years, and annualised brain volume loss between ∼8 months and 5 years. Patients who worsened functionally between ∼8 months and >5 years showed higher than predicted brain age and elevated neurofilament light levels. Glial fibrillary acid protein and neurofilament light levels can remain elevated months to years after traumatic brain injury, and show distinct temporal profiles. These elevations correlate closely with microstructural injury in both grey and white matter on contemporaneous quantitative diffusion tensor imaging. Neurofilament light elevations at ∼8 months may predict ongoing white matter and brain volume loss over >5 years of follow up. If confirmed, these findings suggest that blood biomarker levels at late time points could be used to identify traumatic brain injury survivors who are at high risk of progressive neurological damage.