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Serum NfL levels may predict 10-year deep gray matter volumes



Serum neurofilament light (NfL) levels measured during the first several years after the clinical onset of multiple sclerosis (MS) may predict deep gray matter volumes at 10 years, according to research presented at the meeting held by the Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis.

Dr. Tanuja Chitnis, director of the Partners Pediatric MS Center at the MassGeneral Hospital for Children, Boston

Dr. Tanuja Chitnis

Researchers have begun to study longitudinal changes in serum NfL levels as a way to monitor axonal damage in patients with MS and see how they relate to other measures of neuronal loss, such as brain atrophy, and clinical outcomes over the long-term. “Deep gray matter volumes have been shown to correlate with neurological outcomes in MS patients. In particular, thalamic volume has been shown to correlate with measures of cognitive processing speed, such as the Symbol Digit Modalities Test,” said senior author Tanuja Chitnis, MD, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

She and her colleagues sought to determine whether annual serum NfL measures could predict 10-year deep gray matter atrophy measured by volumetric MRI in patients with MS. They examined patients who were enrolled in the Comprehensive Longitudinal Investigations in MS at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (CLIMB) study. Eligible participants were enrolled within 5 years of disease onset and had had annual blood samples drawn for as long as 10 years. In all, 122 patients met these criteria. The investigators measured serum NfL and compared it against deep gray matter volume in the thalamus, caudate, putamen, and globus pallidus from high-resolution 3-T MRI scans taken at year 10. Dr. Chitnis and colleagues assessed correlations between averaged annual NfL and 10-year MRI outcomes using univariate and multivariate linear regression models.

About 96% of participants were white, and about 2% were black. Approximately 73% of participants were female. Average age at the first symptom was 36 years, and average age at the first sample collection was 38 years.

The investigators found several negative associations between averaged NfL values and various MRI volumetric outcomes. Averaged annual serum NfL levels for the first 5 years were significantly and negatively associated with 10-year thalamic volumes in the unadjusted analysis. A 1-pg/mL increase in the average sNfL value was associated with a decrease of 0.0000272 cm3 in thalamic volume. The association remained significant in an analysis adjusted for age, sex, and disease duration. In this analysis, a 1-pg/mL increase in the average sNfL value was associated with a decrease of 0.0000259 cm3 in thalamic volume. Analyzing serum NfL levels beyond year 5 did not reveal a stronger association. Serum NfL levels during the first 5 years accounted for about 24% of the variance in 10-year thalamic volumes. Dr. Chitnis and colleagues found similar statistically significant associations between serum NfL levels and caudate, putamen, and globus pallidus volumes. “Therefore, early serum NfL levels contribute to the identification of patients who may require highly effective therapies,” she said.

“We will continue to validate these results. As well, we are exploring other early biomarkers that increase predictive power of long-term outcomes in MS, with the goal of identifying patients most appropriate for high-efficacy treatments.”

The study was supported by funds from the U.S. Department of Defense, Novartis, and the Swiss National Research Foundation. Dr. Chitnis has received personal compensation for consulting and advisory board membership from Biogen, Merck Serono, Novartis, and Sanofi.

SOURCE: Lokhande H et al. ACTRIMS Forum 2020, Abstract P018.

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