Serum neurofilament light chain is a discriminative biomarker between frontotemporal lobar degeneration and primary psychiatric disorders

J Neurol. 2020 Jan;267(1):162-167. doi: 10.1007/s00415-019-09567-8. Epub 2019 Oct 8.


Due to the significant clinical overlap between frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) spectrum disorders and late-onset primary psychiatric disorders (PPD), diagnostic biomarkers reflecting the different underlying pathophysiologies are urgently needed. Thus far, elevated cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) levels of neurofilament light chain (NfL) have been reported in various neurological conditions. Furthermore, recent advancements in ultrasensitive analytical methods (e.g., single molecule array, Simoa) have enabled sensitive and less invasive NfL detection also from blood samples. In this study, we evaluated the potential of serum NfL (sNfL) as a diagnostic tool between FTLD and PPD. We analyzed sNfL levels with Simoa from 125 participants including patients from FTLD (n = 91) and PPD (n = 34) spectra. Our results show that sNfL levels are higher in the FTLD group compared to the PPD group as well as in separate clinical subtypes of FTLD compared to different psychiatric manifestations (i.e., mood or psychotic disorders). At single-subject level, discrimination between FTLD and PPD was possible with 80% sensitivity and 85% specificity (AUC = 0.850, 95% CI 0.776-0.923), and between behavioral variant frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD) and PPD with 79% sensitivity and 85% specificity (AUC = 0.830, 95% CI 0.732-0.908). These findings highlight the potential of sNfL as a discriminating biomarker for FTLD over PPD in patients with wide-ranging behavioral, psychiatric and cognitive symptoms.

Keywords: Biomarker; Frontotemporal dementia; Frontotemporal lobar degeneration; Neurofilament light (NfL); Psychiatric disorders; sNfL.