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Blood biomarker discovery predicts the development of Alzheimer’s disease

[Sept. 2, 2023: Staff Writer, The Brighter Side of News]

Research heralds a new era in the diagnosis and management of Alzheimer's disease. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

In a groundbreaking study that holds the promise of transforming our understanding of Alzheimer's disease, neuroscience researchers from Wayne State University have unveiled the remarkable potential of blood-based neurofilament light (NfL) levels as a predictive biomarker for the likelihood and rate of neurodegeneration progression within the confines of this debilitating condition.

This revolutionary research, led by Youjin Jung, a doctoral student in the Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience program, and Jessica Damoiseaux, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Institute of Gerontology and the Department of Psychology, heralds a new era in the diagnosis and management of Alzheimer's disease.


The study, aptly titled "The Potential of Blood Neurofilament Light as a Marker of Neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's disease," recently saw its publication in the prestigious journal Brain. The authors delve into the intricate relationship between blood-based NfL levels and the progression of neurodegeneration, illuminating the potential of this biomarker in revolutionizing early diagnosis and prognosis assessment.

At the heart of this research lies the recognition of neurofilament light as a minimal invasive and easily accessible biomarker, positioning it as an invaluable tool for clinicians and researchers alike. The study hinges on the correlation between serum or plasma NfL levels and structural and functional brain imaging measures, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET), used to gauge the extent of neurodegeneration.


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Jung and Damoiseaux scrutinized existing literature, meticulously piecing together evidence of NfL's role in the complex landscape of Alzheimer's disease. Their insights point to NfL's dual nature – while it serves as a general marker of neuronal damage in the context of aging, its elevated levels in Alzheimer's dementia indicate a unique pattern.

Not only are the levels distinctly higher in Alzheimer's cases, but the rate of increase is also more pronounced. This revelation offers a glimmer of hope in distinguishing between the natural effects of aging and the pathological processes underlying Alzheimer's disease.


Importantly, this groundbreaking study underlines NfL's potential to serve as a mirror reflecting the severity of atrophy in specific brain regions. Notably, the medial temporal lobe emerges as a focal point of interest, highlighting its susceptibility to neurodegenerative changes.

PET scan of a human brain with Alzheimer's disease. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

In addition to atrophy, the study underscores the association between elevated serum NfL and pronounced brain glucose hypometabolism, as well as compromised white matter integrity – both hallmarks of Alzheimer's pathology.

As Damoiseaux explicates, "The cross-sectional literature indicates that blood NfL shows great promise as a monitoring biomarker to indicate the severity of neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's disease."


Her optimism resonates with the potential for NfL to be particularly informative in individuals demonstrating Alzheimer's pathology but remain cognitively unaffected. Moreover, this biomarker holds potential as a harbinger of change in those at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease due to factors such as the APOE ε4 allele or increased Aβ load.

Neurofilament Light Chain on the Neuron (CREDIT: Pashtun Shahim, M.D., Ph.DNIH Clinical Center)

The significance of this study isn't confined to a single snapshot in time. Longitudinal studies, consistent in their findings, unravel significant relationships between blood NfL levels and the atrophy of brain regions that are inherently vulnerable to Alzheimer's disease pathology. This tantalizing observation points to a possible timeline – an increase in blood NfL levels might precede the observable alterations in cortical atrophy, even in the preclinical stages of Alzheimer's disease.


The journey through Jung and Damoiseaux's research is one of unveiling layers of evidence that converge toward a singular conclusion: blood NfL levels stand as unwavering predictors of the severity of atrophy and glucose metabolism aberrations within brain regions commonly impacted by Alzheimer's pathology.

The implications are profound, stretching far beyond diagnostics into the realm of prognostics. The authors argue that this biomarker has the potential to predict the trajectory of neurodegeneration, potentially allowing for more targeted interventions and treatments.

Damage to white matter has now been linked to a variety of neurological disorders. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

However, amid the excitement lies a note of caution. Jung offers a tempered perspective, reminding us of the existing knowledge gaps that must be bridged before blood NfL can be seamlessly integrated into clinical practice. "We need more studies on how blood NfL is related to different aspects of neuronal damage," she wisely notes. This call to action seeks to address lingering uncertainties and pave the way for a more comprehensive understanding of the factors influencing NfL concentration in the blood.


As the scientific community grapples with the nuances of NfL's potential, this study undoubtedly cements its place as a pivotal milestone in the ongoing battle against Alzheimer's disease.

Jessica Damoiseaux

The work of Youjin Jung and Jessica Damoiseaux has illuminated a path toward transformative change in Alzheimer's disease management. Their meticulous examination of blood-based neurofilament light levels and their correlation with neurodegeneration offers a glimpse into a future where early diagnosis and targeted interventions are no longer a distant dream but a tangible reality.


As the scientific community delves deeper into the intricacies of this biomarker, one thing remains certain – the journey to unraveling Alzheimer's disease's enigma has taken a significant step forward.

For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


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