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Neurofilament light and tau as blood biomarkers for sports-related concussion

Journal article
Authors Pashtun Shahim
Y. Tegner
N. Marklund
Kaj Blennow
Henrik Zetterberg
Published in Neurology
Volume 90
Issue 20
Pages E1780-E1788
ISSN 0028-3878
Publication year 2018
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Psychiatry and Neurochemistry
Pages E1780-E1788
Language en
Keywords traumatic brain-injury, neurochemical aftermath, postconcussion, syndrome, military personnel, damage, players, protein, chain, Neurosciences & Neurology
Subject categories Neurochemistry


Objective To compare neurofilament light (NfL) and tau as blood-based biomarkers for acute sports-related concussion (SRC) and determine whether their concentrations at different time points after the injury are associated with prolonged time to return to play (RTP). A total of 288 professional hockey players were followed longitudinally from September 1, 2012, to April 30, 2015. Data collection and biomarker analyses were conducted between 2015 and 2017. Associations were tested between blood concentrations of NfL and tau, and RTP time. Serum concentrations of S100B and neuron-specific enolase (NSE) were also measured for comparison. Of 288 players, 105 sustained an SRC. Of these, 87 underwent blood sampling 1, 12, 36, and 144 hours after SRC and at the RTP time point. Serum NfL concentrations 1, 12, 36, and 144 hours after SRC were related to prolonged RTP time, and could separate players with RTP >10 days from those with RTP <= 10 days (area under the receiver operating characteristic curve [AUROC] 0.82). Also, serum NfL 144 hours after SRC discriminated players who resigned from the game due to persistent postconcussion symptoms (PCS) from those who returned to play (AUROC 0.89). Plasma tau 1 hour after SRC was related to RTP but less strongly than NfL, while S100B and NSE showed no such associations. Serum NfL outperformed tau, S100B, and NSE as a biomarker for SRC. From a clinical standpoint, serum NfL may be useful to identify individuals at risk of prolonged PCS, and may aid in biomarker-informed decisions with regard to when RTP should be considered.

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