CSF neurofilament light levels predict hippocampal atrophy in cognitively healthy older adults

Neurobiol Aging. 2017 Jan;49:138-144. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2016.09.012. Epub 2016 Sep 28.


Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) neurofilament light (NFL) is a marker of axonal degeneration. We tested whether CSF NFL levels predict hippocampal atrophy rate in cognitively healthy older adults independently of the established CSF Alzheimer's disease (AD) biomarkers, β-amyloid 1-42, and phosphorylated tau (P-tau). We included 144 participants in a 2-year longitudinal study with baseline CSF measures and 2 magnetic resonance images. Eighty-eight participants had full data available. A subgroup of 36 participants with very low AD risk was also studied. NFL predicted hippocampal atrophy rate independently of age, β-amyloid 1-42, and P-tau. Including NFL, P-tau, and age in the same model, higher NFL and lower P-tau predicted higher hippocampal atrophy (R2 = 0.20, NFL: β = -0.34; p = 0.003; P-tau: β = 0.27; p = 0.009). The results were upheld in the participants with very low AD risk. NFL predicted neurodegeneration in older adults with very low AD probability. We suggest that factors previously shown to be important for brain degeneration in mild cognitive impairment may also impact changes in normal aging, demonstrating that NFL is likely to indicate AD-independent, age-expected neurodegeneration.

Keywords: Cerebrospinal fluid; Hippocampal atrophy rate; Magnetic resonance imaging; Neurofilament light; Normal aging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / pathology*
  • Atrophy
  • Axons / pathology
  • Biomarkers / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid / cytology*
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid / metabolism
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / diagnosis
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / pathology
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Intermediate Filaments / metabolism
  • Intermediate Filaments / pathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Degeneration / diagnosis
  • Nerve Degeneration / pathology
  • Predictive Value of Tests


  • Biomarkers