Glial fibrillary acidic protein elevations relate to neuroimaging abnormalities after mild TBI

Neurology. 2018 Oct 9;91(15):e1385-e1389. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000006321. Epub 2018 Sep 12.


Objectives: To determine whether a panel of blood-based biomarkers can discriminate between patients with suspected mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) with and without neuroimaging findings (CT and MRI).

Methods: Study participants presented to the emergency department with suspected mTBI (n = 277) with a CT and MRI scan and healthy controls (n = 49). Plasma concentrations of tau, glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), ubiquitin carboxyl-terminal hydrolase L1, and neurofilament light chain (NFL) were measured using the single-molecule array technology.

Results: Concentrations of GFAP, tau, and NFL were higher in patients with mTBI, compared with those of controls (p's < 0.01). GFAP yielded an area under the curve (AUC) of 0.93 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.90-0.96), confirming its discriminatory power for distinguishing mTBI from controls. Levels of GFAP, tau, and NFL were higher in patients with trauma-related intracranial findings on CT compared with those with normal CT, with the only significant predictor being GFAP (AUC 0.77, 95% CI 0.70-0.84). Among patients with mTBI, tau, NFL, and GFAP differentiated subjects with and without MRI abnormalities with an AUC of 0.83, with GFAP being the strongest predictor. Combining tau, NFL, and GFAP showed a good discriminatory power (AUC 0.80, 95% CI 0.69-0.90) for detecting MRI abnormalities, even in patients with mTBI with a normal CT.

Conclusion: Our study confirms GFAP as a promising marker of brain injury in patients with acute mTBI. A combination of various biomarkers linked to different pathophysiologic mechanisms increases diagnostic subgroup accuracy. This multimarker strategy may guide medical decision making, facilitate the use of MRI scanning, and prove valuable in the stratification of patients with brain injuries in future clinical trials.

Classification of evidence: Class I evidence that blood concentrations of GFAP, tau, and NFL discriminate patients with mTBI with and without neuroimaging findings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Area Under Curve
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain Concussion / blood*
  • Brain Concussion / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain Concussion / therapy
  • Cohort Studies
  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Female
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein / blood*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neurofilament Proteins / blood*
  • ROC Curve
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • tau Proteins / blood


  • Biomarkers
  • GFAP protein, human
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein
  • MAPT protein, human
  • Neurofilament Proteins
  • neurofilament protein L
  • tau Proteins