Profiling TREM2 expression in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Brain Behav Immun. 2023 Mar:109:117-126. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2023.01.013. Epub 2023 Jan 18.


Background and objectives: There is growing evidence of the contribution of neuroinflammation, and in particular microglia, in the pathogenesis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). TREM2 gene plays a crucial role in shaping microglia in neurodegenerative conditions. To deepen the understanding of TREM2 in ALS and investigate the performance of TREM2 as a biomarker, we profiled TREM2 expression levels in spinal cord, cerebrospinal fluid and blood of patients with sporadic ALS. We also wanted to investigate whether the combined measurement of sTREM2 in fluids could improve the diagnostic yield of total and phosphorylated TDP-43 levels.

Methods: We performed a case-control study to profile overall and transcript-specific TREM2 mRNA levels by RT-qPCR and protein expression levels by Western-blot in postmortem specimens of spinal cord from ALS patients and controls. In parallel, we measured soluble TREM2 (sTREM2) protein levels and full length and phosphorylated TDP-43 (tTDP-43 and pTDP-43) by ELISA in CSF and serum from ALS patients vs healthy controls. Patients were prospectively recruited from an ALS unit of a tertiary hospital and fulfilled El Escorial revised criteria. After bivariate analysis, a logistic regression model was developed to identify adjusted estimates of the association of sTREM2 levels in CSF and serum with ALS status.

Results: Overall and transcript-specific TREM2 mRNA were upregulated in the spinal cord of ALS patients (n = 21) compared to controls (n = 19). Similar changes were observed in TREM2 protein levels (p < 0.01) in spinal cord of ALS patients vs healthy controls. We also detected significantly higher sTREM2 levels in CSF (p-value < 0.01) of ALS patients (n = 46) vs controls (n = 46) and serum (p-value < 0.001) of ALS patients (n = 100) vs controls (n = 100). In a logistic regression model, both CSF and serum sTREM2 remained independently associated with ALS status with OR = 3.41 (CI 95 %=1.34-8.66) (p-value < 0.05) and OR = 3.38 (CI 95 %: 1.86-6.16) (p-value < 0.001), respectively. We also observed that pTDP-43 levels in CSF is an independent predictor of ALS (p-value < 0.05).

Conclusions: Our results support the role of TREM2 in ALS pathophysiology and demonstrates that the three TREM2 transcripts are deregulated in ALS in postmortem human specimens of spinal cord. We hypothesise about the possible influence of systemic-peripheral inflammation in the disease. Finally, we conclude that pTDP-43 levels in CSF could be a biomarker of ALS, and sTREM2 measurement in CSF and blood emerge as potential non-invasive biomarker in ALS.

Keywords: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Biomarker; Microglia; Neuroinflammation; Peripheral inflammation; Serum and CSF; Soluble TREM2; TDP-43; TREM2; TREM2 isoforms.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis* / genetics
  • Biomarkers / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Case-Control Studies
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Humans
  • Inflammation
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / genetics
  • Receptors, Immunologic / genetics


  • Biomarkers
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • TREM2 protein, human
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Receptors, Immunologic