Peripherin is a biomarker of axonal damage in peripheral nervous system disease

Brain. 2023 Nov 2;146(11):4562-4573. doi: 10.1093/brain/awad234.


Valid, responsive blood biomarkers specific to peripheral nerve damage would improve management of peripheral nervous system (PNS) diseases. Neurofilament light chain (NfL) is sensitive for detecting axonal pathology but is not specific to PNS damage, as it is expressed throughout the PNS and CNS. Peripherin, another intermediate filament protein, is almost exclusively expressed in peripheral nerve axons. We postulated that peripherin would be a promising blood biomarker of PNS axonal damage. We demonstrated that peripherin is distributed in sciatic nerve, and to a lesser extent spinal cord tissue lysates, but not in brain or extra-neural tissues. In the spinal cord, anti-peripherin antibody bound only to the primary cells of the periphery (anterior horn cells, motor axons and primary afferent sensory axons). In vitro models of antibody-mediated axonal and demyelinating nerve injury showed marked elevation of peripherin levels only in axonal damage and only a minimal rise in demyelination. We developed an immunoassay using single molecule array technology for the detection of serum peripherin as a biomarker for PNS axonal damage. We examined longitudinal serum peripherin and NfL concentrations in individuals with Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS, n = 45, 179 time points), chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (CIDP, n = 35, 70 time points), multiple sclerosis (n = 30), dementia (as non-inflammatory CNS controls, n = 30) and healthy individuals (n = 24). Peak peripherin levels were higher in GBS than all other groups (median 18.75 pg/ml versus < 6.98 pg/ml, P < 0.0001). Peak NfL was highest in GBS (median 220.8 pg/ml) and lowest in healthy controls (median 5.6 pg/ml), but NfL did not distinguish between CIDP (17.3 pg/ml), multiple sclerosis (21.5 pg/ml) and dementia (29.9 pg/ml). While peak NfL levels were higher with older age (rho = +0.39, P < 0.0001), peak peripherin levels did not vary with age. In GBS, local regression analysis of serial peripherin in the majority of individuals with three or more time points of data (16/25) displayed a rise-and-fall pattern with the highest value within the first week of initial assessment. Similar analysis of serial NfL concentrations showed a later peak at 16 days. Group analysis of serum peripherin and NfL levels in GBS and CIDP patients were not significantly associated with clinical data, but in some individuals with GBS, peripherin levels appeared to better reflect clinical outcome measure improvement. Serum peripherin is a promising new, dynamic and specific biomarker of acute PNS axonal damage.

Keywords: axon; biomarker; guillain-Barré syndrome; neuropathy; peripheral nervous system; peripherin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Axons / pathology
  • Biomarkers
  • Dementia* / pathology
  • Guillain-Barre Syndrome* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Intermediate Filaments
  • Multiple Sclerosis* / pathology
  • Peripherins / metabolism
  • Polyradiculoneuropathy, Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating*


  • Peripherins
  • Biomarkers