Worsening cognitive performance is associated with increases in systemic inflammation following hematopoietic cell transplantation

Brain Behav Immun. 2019 Aug;80:308-314. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2019.04.008. Epub 2019 Apr 3.


Background: Cognitive decline is a frequently cited concern among patients receiving hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT), and patients often experience neurocognitive deficits (i.e., stable or worsening neurocognitive performance) throughout the transplant course. Deficits can be most severe during the acute transplant period (i.e., 90 days after transplantation), when patients also typically experience elevated systemic levels of inflammation. Previous studies have identified inflammation as a likely mechanism underlying neurocognitive deficits, primarily in women with breast cancer; however, longitudinal studies have been limited. In this study, our aim was to evaluate the relationship between changes in systemic inflammation and changes in cognition from pre- to post-transplant in patients receiving allogeneic HCT.

Methods: Patients scheduled for allogeneic HCT (n = 85) were assessed prior to HCT and 90 days after HCT. Biomarkers of inflammation included IL-6, sTNF-RII, CRP, and IL-1ra, which have been previously associated with neurocognitive deficits in cancer patients. Patients completed neuropsychological testing and self-report questionnaires.

Results: Mixed models demonstrated that from pre- to post-HCT, increases in IL-6 and sTNF-RII were associated with neurocognitive deficits, and decreases in CRP were associated with better neurocognitive performance. There were no significant associations between changes in inflammation and self-reported cognitive performance.

Conclusions: Our findings are the first to our knowledge to report a robust relationship between increasing inflammation and neurocognitive deficits from pre- to post-HCT. Additional studies are needed to confirm these findings in a larger sample.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Female
  • Hematologic Neoplasms / complications
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / blood
  • Inflammation / complications*
  • Inflammation Mediators / blood
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pregnancy
  • Transplantation, Homologous


  • Inflammation Mediators