Fluid proteomics of CSF and serum reveal important neuroinflammatory proteins in blood-brain barrier disruption and outcome prediction following severe traumatic brain injury: a prospective, observational study

Crit Care. 2021 Mar 12;25(1):103. doi: 10.1186/s13054-021-03503-x.


Background: Severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) is associated with blood-brain barrier (BBB) disruption and a subsequent neuroinflammatory process. We aimed to perform a multiplex screening of brain enriched and inflammatory proteins in blood and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in order to study their role in BBB disruption, neuroinflammation and long-term functional outcome in TBI patients and healthy controls.

Methods: We conducted a prospective, observational study on 90 severe TBI patients and 15 control subjects. Clinical outcome data, Glasgow Outcome Score, was collected after 6-12 months. We utilized a suspension bead antibody array analyzed on a FlexMap 3D Luminex platform to characterize 177 unique proteins in matched CSF and serum samples. In addition, we assessed BBB disruption using the CSF-serum albumin quotient (QA), and performed Apolipoprotein E-genotyping as the latter has been linked to BBB function in the absence of trauma. We employed pathway-, cluster-, and proportional odds regression analyses. Key findings were validated in blood samples from an independent TBI cohort.

Results: TBI patients had an upregulation of structural CNS and neuroinflammatory pathways in both CSF and serum. In total, 114 proteins correlated with QA, among which the top-correlated proteins were complement proteins. A cluster analysis revealed protein levels to be strongly associated with BBB integrity, but not carriage of the Apolipoprotein E4-variant. Among cluster-derived proteins, innate immune pathways were upregulated. Forty unique proteins emanated as novel independent predictors of clinical outcome, that individually explained ~ 10% additional model variance. Among proteins significantly different between TBI patients with intact or disrupted BBB, complement C9 in CSF (p = 0.014, ΔR2 = 7.4%) and complement factor B in serum (p = 0.003, ΔR2 = 9.2%) were independent outcome predictors also following step-down modelling.

Conclusions: This represents the largest concomitant CSF and serum proteomic profiling study so far reported in TBI, providing substantial support to the notion that neuroinflammatory markers, including complement activation, predicts BBB disruption and long-term outcome. Individual proteins identified here could potentially serve to refine current biomarker modelling or represent novel treatment targets in severe TBI.

Keywords: Apolipoprotein E4; Blood–brain barrier; Glasgow Outcome Score; Human; Neuroinflammation; Protein biomarkers; Proteomics; Traumatic brain injury.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Biomarkers / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / abnormalities*
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / metabolism
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic / blood
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic / complications*
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic / physiopathology
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Proteomics*
  • Sweden


  • Biomarkers