Neurofilament Light Chain as a Biomarker, and Correlation with Magnetic Resonance Imaging in Diagnosis of CNS-Related Disorders

Mol Neurobiol. 2020 Jan;57(1):469-491. doi: 10.1007/s12035-019-01698-3. Epub 2019 Aug 5.


The search for diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers for neurodegenerative conditions is of high importance, since these disorders may present difficulties in differential diagnosis. Biomarkers with high sensitivity and specificity are required. Neurofilament light chain (NfL) is a unique biomarker related to axonal damage and neural cell death, which is elevated in a number of neurological disorders, and can be detected in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), as well as blood, serum, or plasma samples. Although the NfL concentration in CSF is higher than that in blood, blood measurement may be easier in practice due to its lesser invasiveness, reproducibility, and convenience. Many studies have investigated NfL in both CSF and serum/plasma as a potential biomarker of neurodegenerative disorders. Neuroimaging biomarkers can also potentially improve detection of CNS-related disorders at an early stage. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) are sensitive techniques to visualize neuroaxonal loss. Therefore, investigating the combination of NfL levels with indices extracted from MRI and DTI scans could potentially improve diagnosis of CNS-related disorders. This review summarizes the evidence for NfL being a reliable biomarker in the early detection and disease management in several CNS-related disorders. Moreover, we highlight the correlation between MRI and NfL and ask whether they can be combined.

Keywords: Biomarker; Diffusion tensor imaging; Magnetic resonance imaging; Neurodegenerative disorders; Neurofilament light chain.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Models, Biological
  • Neurofilament Proteins / metabolism*
  • Solubility


  • Biomarkers
  • Neurofilament Proteins