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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Subjects and Methods
  4. Results
  5. Discussion
  6. Acknowledgment
  7. Authorship
  8. Potential Conflicts of Interest
  9. References
  10. Supporting Information

Objective

Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) neurofilament light chain (NfL) concentration is elevated in neurological disorders, including frontotemporal degeneration (FTD). We investigated the clinical correlates of elevated CSF NfL levels in FTD.

Methods

CSF NfL, amyloid-β1–42 (Aβ42), tau, and phosphorylated tau concentrations were compared in 47 normal controls (NC), 8 asymptomatic gene carriers (NC2) of FTD-causing mutations, and 79 FTD (45 behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia [bvFTD], 18 progressive nonfluent aphasia [PNFA], 16 semantic dementia [SD]), 22 progressive supranuclear palsy, 50 Alzheimer disease, 6 Parkinson disease, and 17 corticobasal syndrome patients. Correlations between CSF analyte levels were performed with neuropsychological measures and the Clinical Dementia Rating scale sum of boxes (CDRsb). Voxel-based morphometry of structural magnetic resonance images determined the relationship between brain volume and CSF NfL.

Results

Mean CSF NfL concentrations were higher in bvFTD, SD, and PNFA than other groups. NfL in NC2 was similar to NC. CSF NfL, but not other CSF measures, correlated with CDRsb and neuropsychological measures in FTD, but not in other diagnostic groups. Analyses in 2 independent FTD cohorts and a group of autopsy-verified or biomarker-enriched cases confirmed the larger group analysis. In FTD, gray and white matter volume negatively correlated with CSF NfL concentration, such that individuals with the highest NfL levels exhibited the most atrophy.

Interpretation

CSF NfL is elevated in symptomatic FTD and correlates with disease severity. This measurement may be a useful surrogate endpoint of disease severity in FTD clinical trials. Longitudinal studies of CSF NfL in FTD are warranted. ANN NEUROL 2014;75:116–126

Frontotemporal degeneration (FTD) is a common form of dementia in individuals with disease onset prior to 65 years of age.[1] FTD encompasses three main clinical syndromes, a behavioral variant (behavioral variant FTD [bvFTD]) and 2 primary aphasias, a progressive nonfluent variant (progressive nonfluent aphasia [PNFA]) and a semantic dementia variant (semantic dementia [SD]).[1, 2] FTD is pathologically distinct from Alzheimer disease (AD), with most cases displaying either insoluble deposits of tau protein or TAR DNA binding protein 43kDa (TDP-43) in neurons and glia at autopsy, whereas AD is associated with deposits of tau in the form of neurofibrillary tangles as well as plaques containing β amyloid1–42 (Aβ42).

Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) Aβ42, tau and phosphorylated tau (ptau) at residue 181 are commonly used diagnostic biomarkers for AD, and have been used as surrogate endpoints in clinical trials of disease-modifying agents for AD.[3] Elevations in CSF tau and ptau are thought to represent neuronal degeneration, whereas decreases in CSF Aβ42 likely reflect plaque deposition.[3, 4] In contrast to AD, CSF Aβ42 and tau are not consistently altered in FTD. Some studies have demonstrated modest tau elevations in FTD, whereas others report normal levels.[5-8] These disparate results could reflect the pathological heterogeneity in clinically diagnosed FTD.[9] Aβ42 levels in FTD are comparable to normal controls (NC).[5-8, 10]

Neurofilaments are structural components of axons and are measurable in CSF.[11] Increased CSF concentrations of neurofilament proteins, including neurofilament light chain (NfL) and phosphorylated neurofilament heavy chain (pNfH), have been associated with neuronal death and axonal degeneration in a variety of disorders, including AD,[12, 13] Parkinson disease (PD),[14] multiple sclerosis (MS),[15, 16] and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).[12, 15] In MS[17] and ALS,[18] CSF NfL concentration is correlated with disease severity. Elevated CSF NfL has previously been reported in FTD; however, it is not known whether different FTD subtypes or clinical features are associated with elevated CSF NfL.[12, 19]

The goals of this study were therefore to: (1) examine CSF NfL levels in different FTD clinical syndromes, (2) compare NfL to CSF biomarkers associated with AD (including Aβ42, tau, and ptau) in each of these syndromes, and (3) determine whether CSF NfL levels relate to clinical or neuroimaging measures of FTD.

Subjects and Methods

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Subjects and Methods
  4. Results
  5. Discussion
  6. Acknowledgment
  7. Authorship
  8. Potential Conflicts of Interest
  9. References
  10. Supporting Information

Subjects

A total of 229 individuals were evaluated at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Memory and Aging Center. Seventy-nine subjects met Neary[1] criteria for FTD: 45 bvFTD, 18 PNFA, and 16 SD. Other clinical neurodegenerative groups met established diagnostic criteria, including 50 with National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Diseases and Stroke (NINCDS)–Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders Association probable AD,[20] 22 with NINDS-Society for Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (SPSP) probable or possible progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP),[21] 6 with PD,[22] and 17 with corticobasal syndrome (CBS).[23] Forty-seven NCs had normal neurological examinations, neuropsychological testing scores, and Clinical Dementia Rating (CDR) scores of 0 (27 were evaluated at UCSF and 20 were samples purchased from PrecisionMed [San Diego, CA]). Eight individuals were asymptomatic carriers (NC2) of known FTD-causing mutations (C9 open reading frame 72 hexanucleotide repeat expansion [C9ORF72],[24] progranulin [GRN],[25] or tau [MAPT][26]). Study participants provided written informed consent, and all procedures were approved by the UCSF Institutional Review Board.

Biomarker Enriched Cases

Because FTD syndromes can sometimes be caused by atypical AD pathology, analyses were repeated in a subset of individuals who either (1) had a known FTD-causing mutation; (2) had been previously characterized with the amyloid positron emission tomography (PET) agent, Pittsburgh compound B (PiB)27; or (3) had an autopsy-confirmed frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) diagnosis. In total, 76 subjects were gene carriers, had PiB data, or had autopsy-confirmed diagnoses (Supplementary Methods and Supplementary Table 1).

Table 1. Demographics and Neuropsychological Testing Scores
Combined CohortsNCNC2FTDADPSPCBSPDStatistical AnalysisPost Hoc Analysis
bvFTDSDPNFA
  1. Group differences for the combined cohort for demographics and neuropsychological assessments. Values are mean (standard deviation). Group comparison with post hoc analysis was significant at p < 0.05.

  2. AD = Alzheimer disease; BNT = Boston naming task; bvFTD = behavioral variant FTD; CBS = corticobasal syndrome; CDRsb = Clinical Dementia Rating sum of boxes; CVLT = California verbal learning task; F = female; FTD = frontotemporal degeneration; M = male; max = maximum; MMSE = Mini-Mental State Examination; NA = not applicable; NC = normal controls; NC2 = clinically normal carriers of known FTD-causing mutations; NS = not significant; PD = Parkinson disease; PNFA = progressive nonfluent aphasia; PSP = progressive supranuclear palsy; SD = semantic dementia.

Demographics           
No.4784516185022176  
Age, yr66 (11)54 (10)61 (8)63 (7)70 (7)66 (9)68 (7)68 (8)70 (5)F8,229 = 4.54NC2 > NC, PNFA, AD, PSP, PD, CBS; PNFA > bvFTD
Gender, M/F26/214/432/136/1011/728/2211/116/113/3χ28,229 = 10.02NS
Education, yr17 (2)20 (3)16 (3)17 (2)17 (4)15 (4)15 (2)15 (3)17 (3)F8,180 = 2.17NS
Duration, yrNANA6.5 (5.8)4.4 (1.6)5.5 (2.3)5.1 (2.1)6.4 (2.3)4.8 (3.9)NAF5,81 = 0.690NS
General           
MMSE29.0 (1.8)28.3 (0.6)24.6 (2.6)21.5 (8.4)23.6 (4.8)19.9 (5.8)26.2 (3.3)25.5 (3.2)28.5 (0.8)H8 = 91.22NC > all; NC2 > AD, PNFA; AD < bvFTD, PNFA, PSP, PD, CBS; PNFA < PSP, PD
CDRsb0.0 (0)0.0 (0)6.03 (3.1)4.1 (2.5)3.7 (2.7)4.9 (3.1)4.2 (2.1)3.1 (2.5)0.7 (0.9)H8 = 85.63NC, NC2 < all; bvFTD > AD, CBS; PD < bvFTD, SD, PNFA, AD
Memory           
Modified Rey recall, max = 1712.2 (3.4)14.0 (0)6.9 (5.1)7.7 (5.1)8.2 (4.3)4.7 (4.1)9.3 (2.7)9.3 (5.2)12.0 (1.3)F8,127 = 5.28NC > bvFTD, AD
CVLT 10-minute recall, max 97.9 (1.3)8.0 (1.4)3.7 (2.9)2.0 (2.2)3.7 (3.2)2.5 (2.5)6.1 (1.5)6.0 (3.4)7.2 (0.8)F8,132 = 9.32NC & gt; bvFTD, SD, PNFA, AD; PSP > SD,AD
Language           
BNT, max = 1514.7 (0.5)14.5 (0.7)12.8 (3.2)4.1 (3.9)10.7 (4.6)11.2 (3.7)14.3 (0.9)12.3 (3.2)14.5 (1.2)F8,152 = 14.94NC > PNFA, AD; SD < all
D words/min16.2 (4.0)20.5 (0.7)8.3 (5.3)8.3 (4.4)5.7 (3.8)8.0 (4.3)6.2 (3.5)7.4 (3.8)12.5 (5.2)F8,146 = 11.50NC, NC2 > bvFTD, SD, PNFA, AD, PSP, CBS
Animals/min24.3 (4.6)27.5 (2.1)12.0 (6.0)6.2 (5.2)8.3 (6.1)9.7 (5.5)10.4 (3.3)10.4 (5.7)18.5 (10.9)F8,152 = 19.92NC, NC2 > bvFTD, SD, PNFA, AD, PSP, CBS
CVLT 30-second recall, max = 98.2 (0.8)8.5 (0.7)5.1 (2.6)3.3 (2.8)4.5 (3.2)3.5 (2.1)7.2 (1.3)6.3 (2.3)7.7 (1.0)F8,132 = 8.29NC > bvFTD, SD, PNFA, AD; SD < PSP, PD, CBS
Visuospatial           
Modified Rey copy, max = 1715.7 (0.6)16.0 (0)14.7 (1.6)15.9 (0.7)14.6 (2.1)12.0 (4.6)12.8 (1.7)13.1 (2.4)16.0 (0.9)F8,128 = 5.08AD < NC, bvFTD, SD, PD
Executive           
Digit forward7.3 (0.9)8 (1.4)5.8 (1.4)6.3 (1.7)4.9 (1.4)4.7 (4.1)5.5 (1.4)5.0 (1.0)6.2 (1.5)F8,153 = 7.67NC > bvFTD, PNFA, AD, PSP, CBS; NC2 > AD
Digit backward5.9 (1.3)5.5 (2.1)5.8 (1.6)4.6 (1.1)3.3 (1.4)2.9 (1.0)3.5 (0.9)3.2 (1.3)5.0 (1.1)F8,152 = 11.95NC > bvFTD, PNFA, AD, CBS
Trails, lines/min0.6 (0.3)0.6 (0.2)5.6 (3.6)0.4 (0.2)0.2 (0.1)0.2 (0.2)0.2 (0.1)0.2 (0.2)0.5 (0.3)F8,135 = 11.06NC < bvFTD, PNFA, AD, PSP, CBS
Stroop color, No. correct93.8 (14.6)91.0 (0)54.3 (24.3)72.3 (29.9)36.3 (14.7)44.8 (22.3)49.3 (18.5)34.9 (18.1)79.0 (15.2)F8,120 = 13.02NC > bvFTD, PNFA; AD < PSP, CBS; NC2 > PNFA, CBS; SD > PNFA, AD, CBS
Stroop interference, No. correct59.3 (9.9)60.5 (14.9)27.9 (13.7)43.8 (16.6)19.9 (6.8)16.4 (13.3)23.8 (7.5)18.7 (12.1)46.0 (6.2)F8,115 = 24.15NC > bvFTD, PNFA, AD,PSP, CBS; NC2 > bvFTD, PNFA, AD,PSP, CBS; SD > bvFTD, PNFA, AD,PSP, CBS; AD < bvFTD, PD

Neuropsychological Testing

General cognition was assessed by the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE).[28] Visuospatial abilities were examined through a copy of a modified Rey-Osterrieth figure (Rey).[29] Working memory was assessed using forward and backward digit span.[30] Executive functioning was assessed using a modified Trail-making test[31] and the Stroop task (number correct for both color and interference condition).[32] Language was assessed using a 15-item Boston naming task (BNT)[33] and a phonemic fluency (D words per minute) and category fluency task (animals per minute). Verbal short-term memory was assessed by a 9-item California verbal learning task (CVLT),[34] and visuospatial memory was assessed by 10-minute recall of the modified Rey figure. The CDR (including CDR sum of boxes [CDRsb]) assessed disease severity.[35]

CSF Analyses

Lumbar punctures were performed using the ADNI protocol (http://www.adni-info.org/Scientists/Pdfs/ADNI2_Protocol_FINAL_20100917.pdf). The INNO-BIA AlzBio3 (Innogenetics, Ghent, Belgium) platform was used to measure Aβ42, tau, and ptau. CSF NfL levels were measured using the Uman Diagnostics (Umea, Sweden) enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) kit (see Supplementary Methods).

NfL ELISAs were run on July 26, 2012 and April 24, 2013. Samples analyzed in the first experiment comprised the original cohort and were from 29 NCs and 22 bvFTD, 10 SD, 8 PNFA, 31 AD, 11 PSP, and 9 CBS patients evaluated between February 19, 2009 and February 9, 2012. A second set of samples from different patients (17 NC, 22 bvFTD, 6 SD, 10 PNFA, 17 AD, 10 PSP, and 7 CBS) evaluated between July 1, 2009 and March 4, 2013 comprised a validation cohort. A combined cohort, consisting of all samples reanalyzed in the same ELISA (April 24, 2013) was used to increase the sample size for the neuropsychological and imaging correlation analyses.

Statistics

Data were analyzed using SPSS (version 16.0; SPSS/IBM, Chicago, IL). Normality for individual variables was determined by the Shapiro–Wilk test. Mean values were compared using univariate analyses of variance, with Tukey post hoc analyses for normally distributed samples. Nonparametric tests, Kruskal–Wallis H and Mann–Whitney U, were used to compare group values for data that was not normally distributed (see Supplementary Methods). Relationships between CSF analytes, cognitive data, and demographic data were examined using Pearson or Spearman correlations. A threshold of p < 0.05 corrected for multiple comparisons (false discovery rate[36]) was accepted as significant.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging

A total of 66 FTD (39 bvFTD, 13 SD, 14 PNFA) patients had structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data. Brain images were acquired using a 3T Siemens (Erlangen, Germany) Tim Trio scanner equipped with a 12-channel receiver head coil. T1-weighted images were made of the entire brain (repetition time/echo time/inversion time = 2,300/2.98/900 milliseconds, flip angle = 9°, bandwidth = 240 Hz/pixel, sagittal orientation with field of view = 256 × 240 mm, 160 slices, voxel size = 1 mm[3]).

Voxel-Based Morphometry

SPM8 (http://www.fil.ion.ucl.ac.uk/spm) was used to analyze the MRI data. Using the VBM8 toolbox (http://dbm.neuro.uni-jena.de/vbm/download/), segmented gray and white matter volumes were created. Volumes were smoothed with a 12 mm full width at half-maximum Gaussian filter. Whole-brain Spearman correlations were performed to investigate the relationship between individual NfL concentrations and both gray and white matter atrophy.

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Subjects and Methods
  4. Results
  5. Discussion
  6. Acknowledgment
  7. Authorship
  8. Potential Conflicts of Interest
  9. References
  10. Supporting Information

Demographics and Neuropsychological Performance

There were no differences between the original and the validation cohorts in age, disease duration, education, or neuropsychological performance (see Supplementary Table 1). In the combined cohort, NC2 were younger than NC and PNFA, AD, PSP, PD, and CBS subjects (p < 0.026; Table), and bvFTD patients were younger than PNFA patients (p = 0.006). There were no other differences in gender, education, or disease duration between patient groups. CDRsb scores were higher in all patient groups compared to NC and NC2 (p < 0.025). Neuropsychological test scores were lower in most patient groups as compared to NC. In particular, MMSE scores were lower in all patient groups except PD than in NC (p < 0.001) and were lower in PNFA and AD compared to NC2 (p < 0.05).

Group Differences in CSF Biomarkers

CSF NfL

(Fig. 1) In the original cohort, CSF NfL levels were higher in all FTD subgroups (bvFTD, SD, and PNFA) than NC (p < 0.001) and AD (p < 0.03). bvFTD and SD subjects also had higher NfL concentrations than PSP subjects (p < 0.003). NfL levels were also higher in AD, PSP, and CBS compared to NC (p < 0.001). To confirm these results, we ran a second NfL ELISA on CSF samples collected from a new group of patients. In this validation cohort, CSF NfL levels were also higher in all FTD subgroups than NC (p < 0.001). SD and PNFA but not bvFTD (p = 0.795) patients also had higher NfL concentration than AD (p < 0.006) and PSP (p < 0.007) patients. NfL concentrations were also higher in AD and PSP compared to NC (p < 0.001). In the combined cohort, CSF NfL concentrations were higher in all FTD subgroups (bvFTD, SD, and PNFA) than NC (p < 0.001), AD (p < 0.006), NC2 (p < 0.009), and PD (p < 0.006). SD and PNFA also had higher NfL concentrations than PSP (p < 0.037). NfL concentrations were also higher in AD compared to NC (p = 0.001). NfL levels in NC2 were similar to those in NC.

CSF Aβ, tau, and ptau

In the combined cohort, AD patients had lower CSF Aβ42 concentrations than all other groups (p < 0.001) except PSP and CBS. CSF tau concentrations were higher in bvFTD, SD, PNFA, and AD than NC (p < 0.036), and AD patients had higher tau concentrations compared to PSP and PD patients (p < 0.03). CSF ptau concentrations were higher in AD than NC, bvFTD, SD, PNFA, and PSP (p < 0.012). AD patients had higher tau/Aβ42 ratios than all other groups (p < 0.007). ptau/Aβ42 ratios were also higher in the AD group than all other groups (p < 0.001).

Correlations between CSF Analytes, Clinical Ratings, and Neuropsychological Ratings

NfL and Disease Severity

(Fig. 2) In the original cohort, there was a positive correlation between CSF NfL and CSRsb in all FTD combined (ρ = 0.413, p = 0.008) and a negative correlation with MMSE scores (ρ = −0.332, p = 0.039). These findings were replicated in the validation cohort, with a positive correlation between CSF NfL concentration and CDRsb in all FTD (ρ = 0.359, p = 0.052) and a negative correlation with MMSE (ρ = −0.549, p = 0.002). To increase power to detect correlations with neuropsychological variables in the different FTD subgroups (bvFTD, SD, and PNFA), we used the combined data set to investigate the specificity of the clinical–NfL correlations. There was a positive correlation between CSF NfL concentration and CDRsb in bvFTD (ρ = 0.406, p = 0.008), SD (ρ = 0.638, p = 0.019), and PNFA (ρ = 0.632, p = 0.011). There was no relationship between CSF NfL levels and disease severity in any other diagnostic group. There also was no relationship between CDRsb and Aβ42, tau, or ptau levels in any group (Supplementary Fig).

NfL and Neuropsychological Performance

In the original cohort, NfL levels negatively correlated with backward digit span (ρ = −0.474, p = 0.005), phonemic fluency (ρ = −0.535, p = 0.002), category fluency ρ = −0.564, p = 0.001), Stroop color naming (ρ = −0.409, p = 0.038), and interference (ρ = −0.485, p = 0.016). In the validation cohort, NfL levels also negatively correlated with phonemic fluency (ρ = −0.440, p = 0.019), category fluency (ρ = −0.648, p = 0.001), BNT (ρ = −0.403, p = 0.022), Stroop color naming (ρ = −0.527, p = 0.012), Stroop interference (ρ = −0.547, p = 0.010), CVLT 30-second recall (ρ = −0.560, p = 0.004), and CVLT 10-minute recall (ρ = −0.412, p = 0.045). CSF NfL was also correlated with neuropsychological performance in bvFTD and PNFA, individually (Supplementary Data).

Confirmation in Biomarker-Enriched Cases

We repeated the CSF analyses in the subgroup of 44 FTD subjects who had increased likelihood of FTD pathology based on a known FTD-causative mutation, low fibrillar amyloid levels as measured by PiB PET, or an autopsy-confirmed FTLD diagnosis, as compared to 14 PiB+ or autopsy-confirmed AD patients (Supplementary Table 2). Consistent with the results in the larger group, NfL levels were higher in the biomarker-enriched FTD cases as compared to AD (p = 0.001). There was also a negative correlation between CSF NfL levels and MMSE in the biomarker-enriched FTD group (ρ = −0.376, p = 0.018).

CSF NfL and Brain Atrophy

Because CSF NfL levels were correlated with disease severity in FTD, we hypothesized that NfL would also be correlated with brain volume in regions associated with disease in a subgroup of the combined FTD cohort who had high-quality MRI data. Using a nonparametric approach in voxel-based morphometry, we identified negative correlations between CSF NfL concentration and gray matter density in all FTD patients (ρ < −0.353, p < 0.05, FDR corrected; Fig 3A, Supplementary Table 3) and bvFTD alone (ρ < −0.441, p < 0.05; see Fig 3B). In both groups, brain atrophy was mostly left lateralized. In all FTD patients, CSF NfL correlated with gray matter volume in frontal, temporal, parietal, occipital, and cingulate cortices, with similar correlations observed in bvFTD only. Less prominent correlations were identified in the white matter associated with most of these regions (see Supplementary Table 3).

image

Figure 1. Group comparisons of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analyte concentrations. (A) Individual values for CSF neurofilament light chain (NfL) concentration for the original cohort (circles, shaded boxes) compared to the validation cohort (squares, open boxes), comparing healthy normal controls (NC) to all patient groups. Asterisks and daggers indicate differences between NC and patient groups for original (p < 0.001) and validation cohorts (p < 0.001), respectively. (B–E) Individual values for CSF concentrations of (B) NfL (combined cohort), (C) β amyloid1–42 (Aβ42), (D) tau, and (E) phosphorylated tau (PTau), comparing NC to all patient groups. Univariate analysis of variance or Kruskal–Wallis tests were used to determine group differences (see Subjects and Methods). Asterisks indicate differences between NC and patient groups: (B) behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD), semantic dementia (SD), progressive nonfluent aphasia (PNFA), and Alzheimer disease (AD), p < 0.001; (C) AD, p < 0.001; (D) bvFTD, SD, PNFA, and AD, p < 0.036; (E) AD, p < 0.001. For the boxplots, the middle line indicates the median; the bottom and top of each box indicate the 25th and 75th percentile, respectively. CBS = corticobasal syndrome; NC2 = clinically normal carriers of known FTD-causing mutations; PD = Parkinson disease; PSP = progressive supranuclear palsy.

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image

Figure 2. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) neurofilament concentrations and disease severity in frontotemporal degeneration (FTD), Alzheimer disease (AD), and progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP). Correlations are given between neurofilament light chain (NfL) and disease severity as measured by Clinical Dementia Rating sum of boxes (CDRsb) in all FTD subtypes: (A) original cohort, (B) validation cohort, and (C) combined cohort. Symbols: circles = behavioral variant FTD (bvFTD); squares = semantic dementia (SD); triangles = progressive nonfluent aphasia (PNFA). (D–H) Correlations between NfL and CDRsb in disease subtypes: (D) bvFTD, (E) SD, (F) PNFA, (G) AD, (H) PSP. Colored and filled symbols indicate cases with additional autopsy, genetic, or Pittsburgh compound B (PIB) data used in confirmatory analysis, from biomarker-enriched cohort. FTLD-TDP = frontotemporal lobar degeneration–TAR DNA binding protein; GRN = progranulin. [Color figure can be viewed in the online issue, which is available at www.annalsofneurology.org.]

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image

Figure 3. Regional brain volume correlates with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) neurofilament light chain (NfL) concentration in frontotemporal degeneration (FTD). (A, B) Negative correlations between CSF NfL and gray (blue) and white (red) matter volume in lateralized frontal, temporal, and parietal regions, with overlapping clusters in pink. Overlap occurs due to the 12mm smoothing kernel used for voxel-based morphometry analysis (see Subjects and Methods). (A) All FTD patients (n = 66); (B) only behavioral variant FTD (bvFTD) patients (n = 39). Spearman analyses, 2-tailed, puncorrected < 0.005 for display purposes. FDR-corrected statistics for each region are given in Supplementary Table 3. (C–E) Scatterplots of CSF NfL concentrations versus individual subjects' signal intensity at peak voxels in selected gray matter clusters. Regions selected are peak voxels from the Spearman correlational analysis, correlated (p < 0.05, false discovery rate corrected) in the All FTD image. Montreal Neurological Institute coordinates: (C) left inferior frontal gyrus (−36, 13, 15), (D) left middle temporal gyrus (−53, −53, 4), (E) left precuneus (−8, −64, 23). Please refer to Figure 2 for symbol and color legends. [Color figure can be viewed in the online issue, which is available at www.annalsofneurology.org.]

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Discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Subjects and Methods
  4. Results
  5. Discussion
  6. Acknowledgment
  7. Authorship
  8. Potential Conflicts of Interest
  9. References
  10. Supporting Information

We found that CSF NfL concentrations were elevated in all 3 FTD clinical subtypes, bvFTD, SD, and PNFA, as compared to NC and other neurodegenerative diseases such as AD, PD, and PSP. Importantly, CSF NfL levels reflected disease severity as measured by CDRsb in FTD, but there were no such relationships identified with standard AD CSF biomarkers, and no correlations were identified between CSF NfL and disease severity in other disorders. These findings were replicated in an independent cohort of FTD patients and controls. Further supporting the relationship between CSF NfL and disease severity in FTD, clinically normal, asymptomatic carriers of FTD-causing mutations (NC2) had CSF NfL concentrations similar to NC. Consistent with the correlation between CSF NfL and disease severity, NfL levels were also strongly related to gray and white matter volume in FTD, with higher CSF NfL indicating more atrophy. Together, these findings suggest that CSF NfL may be a useful biomarker of disease severity in FTD.[37]

The elevated CSF NfL concentrations we observed in FTD are consistent with previous reports. CSF NfL levels have been suggested to indicate neuronal death and axonal degeneration in neurological disease.[1, 19] Previous studies have found increased CSF NfL in FTD compared to NC; however, variable differences between FTD and AD have been reported. Whereas some studies showed elevated levels in FTD compared to AD,[38, 39] others did not reveal group differences.[40] Because clinical FTD may be caused by underlying tau, TDP-43, or other rare forms of neuropathology, as well as atypical presentations of AD, these disparate results could result from differences in the neuropathological composition of the cohorts that were studied.[13] To help exclude this potential confound, we examined CSF results in FTD cases that were PiB, had known genetic causes of FTD, or were autopsy confirmed, and found comparable associations between NfL levels, disease status, and severity.

Mean CSF NfL concentrations were similarly elevated in all 3 FTD clinical syndromes; however, the distribution of values in each group was different. Although overall the highest NfL levels were found in bvFTD patients, there was a wide range of values within this clinical subtype, including some individuals with low CSF NfL concentrations. In contrast, the SD group had a much narrower range of CSF NfL concentrations, with no individuals displaying CSF NfL concentrations in the NC range. This result is similar to another recent study of CSF NfL that demonstrated similar elevations in CSF NfL in SD.[39] Together, these data suggest that CSF NfL may be more prominently elevated in individuals with SD than other FTD subgroups. Whether these elevations reflect the association of SD with FTLD-TDP pathology,[41] or some other component of SD biology, will require further study in a larger cohort of autopsy-confirmed cases. The finding that NfL was elevated in PNFA, a disorder most commonly associated with tau pathology, argues against a specific association with FTLD-TDP.

We found that CSF NfL concentrations in FTD were also correlated with decreased gray and white matter volume in FTD-associated regions in the frontal and temporal lobes. The frontal lobe volume correlations with NfL concentration are consistent with previous reports of regional brain atrophy correlated with disease severity.[37] In addition, in bvFTD, parietal lobe volume was also correlated with CSF NfL concentration. Parietal lobe atrophy has been previously identified in bvFTD patients, usually later in the course of disease, and may be more common in certain FTLD-TDP–associated diagnoses such as FTD/ALS associated with C9ORF72.1,42,43 Because NfL is an axonal protein, we hypothesized that there would also be correlations between CSF NfL and regional white matter volumes. Decreased white matter volumes were identified in association with elevated CSF NfL levels in a number of regions bordering (or overlapping, an artifact of the 12mm smoothing kernel used in the voxel-based morphometry analysis[44]) many of the regions found in the gray matter analysis. Future studies applying more sensitive white matter measurements, such as diffusion tensor imaging, may better elucidate the relationship between white matter integrity and CSF NfL in FTD.

Our results with standard AD CSF biomarkers (tau, ptau, and Aβ42) in FTD are similar to those reported in the literature. Some previous studies have shown elevated CSF tau levels,[3, 5, 9, 43] whereas others have revealed normal tau levels.[1, 5-8] We found elevated total tau in FTD and AD as compared to NC, but ptau was only elevated in AD, similar to what has been reported previously.[9] The CSF findings in AD are consistent with previous studies,[45] suggesting that our CSF assays behaved similarly to those used by other investigators.

There are important limitations to this study. We evaluated only NfL in CSF, and did not measure other neurofilament biomarkers, such as pNfH, which may also be a sensitive biomarker of FTD.[13] Also, most of our diagnoses were clinically determined, with only a small subset of autopsy-confirmed diagnoses; therefore, it was not possible to know the molecular pathology associated with many of the FTD cases we studied. Although we replicated most of the NfL concentration differences between different cohorts in 2 separate cohorts, we were not able to replicate the difference in NfL concentration between bvFTD and AD in the validation cohort, suggesting that CSF NfL may not be valuable for differentiating these 2 clinical syndromes.

In summary, CSF NfL concentrations were strikingly elevated in FTD, particularly in cases associated with FTLD-TDP pathology. Because CSF NfL was correlated with disease severity and brain atrophy, our findings suggest that CSF NfL might eventually be used as a surrogate outcome measure in future clinical trials of disease-modifying agents for FTD.[46] Further studies in longitudinal FTD cohorts are warranted to fully establish CSF NfL as a biomarker of disease severity in FTD.

Acknowledgment

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Subjects and Methods
  4. Results
  5. Discussion
  6. Acknowledgment
  7. Authorship
  8. Potential Conflicts of Interest
  9. References
  10. Supporting Information

This study was supported by Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS); NIH (R01AG038791 (A.L.B.), R01AG031278 (A.L.B.), P50 AG023501 (B.L.M), PO1 AB019724 (B.L.M), AG032306 (H.J.R.)); John Douglas French Foundation (A.L.B., G.R.); Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation (A.L.B.); Association for Frontotemporal Degeneration (A.L.B.); Tau Research Consortium (A.L.B., W.S., G.C.); Bluefield Project to Cure Frontotemporal Dementia (A.L.B.); Larry L. Hillblom Foundation (B.L.M.); Hellman Family Foundation (A.L.B.); and Silicon Valley Foundation (A.L.B.).

Some of the coauthors are employees of BMS. All laboratory analyses done by BMS employees were done blinded to diagnosis, and Memory and Aging Center (MAC) collaborators had complete access to all data. BMS and MAC co-authors reviewed and commented on the manuscript, but it was written by Drs. Scherling and Boxer.

We thank Dr. I. Lobach for statistical advice.

Authorship

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Subjects and Methods
  4. Results
  5. Discussion
  6. Acknowledgment
  7. Authorship
  8. Potential Conflicts of Interest
  9. References
  10. Supporting Information

BMS and MAC coauthors reviewed and commented on the manuscript, which was written by C.S.S. and A.L.B.

Potential Conflicts of Interest

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Subjects and Methods
  4. Results
  5. Discussion
  6. Acknowledgment
  7. Authorship
  8. Potential Conflicts of Interest
  9. References
  10. Supporting Information

T.H.: stock/stock options, Bristol-Myers Squibb. G.C.: grants/grants pending, NIH, Tau Consortium, French Foundation, Takeda Pharmaceuticals. J.H.K.: royalties, Pearson. G.R.: consultancy, Eli Lilly, GE Healthcare; grants/grants pending, Avid Radiopharmaceuticals/Eli Lilly, Alzheimer's Association, Tau Consortium, John Douglas French Alzheimer's Foundation, Hellman Family Foundation; speaking fees, GE Healthcare, American Academy of Neurology; travel expenses, Alzheimer's Association, American Academy of Neurology. M.A.: stock/stock options, Bristol-Myers Squibb. B.L.M.: board membership, Larry L. Hillblom Foundation, John Douglas French Foundation; consultancy, TauRx, Allon Therapeutics, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Siemens Molecular Imaging, Lilly USA; grants/grants pending, NIH/National Institute on Aging; royalties, Cambridge University Press, Guilford Publications, Neurocase. W.S.: consultancy, Bristol-Myers Squibb; grants/grants pending, National Institute on Aging, John D. French Alzheimer's Disease Foundation, Consortium for Frontotemporal Dementia Research, James S. McDonnell Foundation, Larry L. Hillblom Foundation; speaking fees, Novartis Korea. H.R.: board membership, AFTD; grants/grants pending, National Institute on Aging. J.M.: stock/stock options, Bristol-Myers Squibb. A.L.B.: consultancy, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Genentech, Acetylon, Envivo, Iperian; grants/grants pending, CurePSP, Allon Therapeutics, ADDF, Phloronol, Alzheimer's Association, Pfizer, Genentech, Janssen, BMS, TauRx, Archer.

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  3. Subjects and Methods
  4. Results
  5. Discussion
  6. Acknowledgment
  7. Authorship
  8. Potential Conflicts of Interest
  9. References
  10. Supporting Information
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Supporting Information

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Subjects and Methods
  4. Results
  5. Discussion
  6. Acknowledgment
  7. Authorship
  8. Potential Conflicts of Interest
  9. References
  10. Supporting Information

Additional Supporting Information may be found in the online version of this article.

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ana24052-sup-0002-supptable1.docx16KSupplementary Information Table 1.
ana24052-sup-0003-supptable2.docx28KSupplementary Information Table 2.
ana24052-sup-0004-supptable3.docx20KSupplementary Information Table 3.
ana24052-sup-0005-suppinfo1.docx13KSupplementary Information
ana24052-sup-0006-suppinfo2.docx22KSupplementary Information

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