Neuron-Specific Enolase as a Biomarker: Biochemical and Clinical Aspects

Adv Exp Med Biol. 2015;867:125-43. doi: 10.1007/978-94-017-7215-0_9.


Neuron-specific enolase (NSE) is known to be a cell specific isoenzyme of the glycolytic enzyme enolase. In vertebrate organisms three isozymes of enolase, expressed by different genes, are present: enolase α is ubiquitous; enolase β is muscle-specific and enolase γ is neuron-specific. The expression of NSE, which occurs as γγ- and αγ-dimer, is a late event in neural differentiation, thus making it a useful index of neural maturation.NSE is a highly specific marker for neurons and peripheral neuroendocrine cells. As a result of the findings of NSE in specific tissues under normal conditions, increased body fluids levels of NSE may occur with malignant proliferation and thus can be of value in diagnosis, staging and treatment of related neuroendocrine tumours (NETs).NSE is currently the most reliable tumour marker in diagnosis, prognosis and follow-up of small cell lung cancer (SCLC), even though increased levels of NSE have been reported also in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The level of NSE correlates with tumour burden, number of metastatic sites and response to treatment.NSE can be also useful at diagnosis of NETs and gastroenteropancreatic (GEP)-NETs.Raised serum levels of NSE have been found in all stages of neuroblastoma, although the incidence of increased concentration is greater in widespread and metastatic disease. Moreover, NSE determination in cord blood offers an early postnatal possibility of confirming the diagnosis of neuroblastoma in newborns.NSE has been demonstrated to provide quantitative measures of brain damage and/or to improve the diagnosis and the outcome evaluation in ischaemic stroke, intracerebral hemorrhage, seizures, comatose patients after cardiopulmonary resuscitation for cardiac arrest and traumatic brain injury.Increased NSE serum levels have also been found associated with melanoma, seminoma, renal cell carcinoma, Merkel cell tumour, carcinoid tumours, dysgerminomas and immature teratomas, malignant phaechromocytoma, Guillain-Barré syndrome and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Keywords: ENO1; ENO2; ENO3; NSE as biomarker; NSE assays in body fluids; NSE biochemical properties; NSE clinical indications; NSE in brain damage; NSE in gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumours; NSE in lung cancer; NSE in melanoma; NSE in neuroblastoma; NSE in neuroendocrine tumours; NSE in seminoma; NSE mapping and gene function; Neuron-specific enolase (NSE); Tissue NSE expression.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis*
  • Body Fluids / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Phosphopyruvate Hydratase / analysis*
  • Phosphopyruvate Hydratase / chemistry
  • Phosphopyruvate Hydratase / genetics


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Phosphopyruvate Hydratase