Background: Neurotrauma or injuries to the central nervous system (CNS) are a serious public health problem worldwide. Approximately 75% of all traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are concussions or other mild TBI (mTBI) forms. Evaluation of concussion injury today is limited to an assessment of behavioral symptoms, often with delay and subject to motivation. Hence, there is an urgent need for an accurate chemical measure in biofluids to serve as a diagnostic tool for invisible brain wounds, to monitor severe patient trajectories, and to predict survival chances. Although a number of neurotrauma marker candidates have been reported, the broad spectrum of TBI limits the significance of small cohort studies. Specificity and sensitivity issues compound the development of a conclusive diagnostic assay, especially for concussion patients. Thus, the neurotrauma field currently has no diagnostic biofluid test in clinical use.
Content: We discuss the challenges of discovering new and validating identified neurotrauma marker candidates using proteomics-based strategies, including targeting, selection strategies and the application of mass spectrometry (MS) technologies and their potential impact to the neurotrauma field.
Summary: Many studies use TBI marker candidates based on literature reports, yet progress in genomics and proteomics have started to provide neurotrauma protein profiles. Choosing meaningful marker candidates from such 'long lists' is still pending, as only few can be taken through the process of preclinical verification and large scale translational validation. Quantitative mass spectrometry targeting specific molecules rather than random sampling of the whole proteome, e.g., multiple reaction monitoring (MRM), offers an efficient and effective means to multiplex the measurement of several candidates in patient samples, thereby omitting the need for antibodies prior to clinical assay design. Sample preparation challenges specific to TBI are addressed. A tailored selection strategy combined with a multiplex screening approach is helping to arrive at diagnostically suitable candidates for clinical assay development. A surrogate marker test will be instrumental for critical decisions of TBI patient care and protection of concussion victims from repeated exposures that could result in lasting neurological deficits.