To uncover mechanisms underlying chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment in breast cancer, we studied new biomarkers of neuroinflammation and neuronal survival. This cohort study included 74 women (47 ± 10 years) from 22 October 2017 until 20 August 2020. Nineteen chemotherapy-treated and 18 chemotherapy-naïve patients with breast cancer were assessed one month after the completion of surgery and/or chemotherapy, and 37 healthy controls were included. Assessments included neuropsychological testing, questionnaires, blood sampling for 17 inflammatory and two neuronal survival markers (neurofilament light-chain (NfL), and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and PET-MR neuroimaging. To investigate neuroinflammation, translocator protein (TSPO) [18F]DPA714-PET-MR was acquired for 15 participants per group, and evaluated by volume of distribution normalized to the cerebellum. Chemotherapy-treated patients showed higher TSPO expression, indicative for neuroinflammation, in the occipital and parietal lobe when compared to healthy controls or chemotherapy-naïve patients. After partial-volume correction, differences with healthy controls persisted (pFWE < 0.05). Additionally, compared to healthy- or chemotherapy-naïve controls, cognitive impairment (17-22%) and altered levels in blood markers (F ≥ 3.7, p ≤ 0.031) were found in chemotherapy-treated patients. NfL, an axonal damage marker, was particularly sensitive in differentiating groups (F = 105, p = 4.2 × 10 -21), with levels 20-fold higher in chemotherapy-treated patients. Lastly, in chemotherapy-treated patients alone, higher local TSPO expression was associated with worse cognitive performance, higher blood levels of BDNF/NfL, and decreased fiber cross-section in the corpus callosum (pFWE < 0.05). These findings suggest that increased neuroinflammation is associated with chemotherapy-related cognitive impairment in breast cancer. Additionally, NfL could be a useful biomarker to assess neurotoxic effects of anticancer chemotherapies.
Keywords: PET-MR; breast cancer; chemotherapy; neuroimaging; neuroinflammation.