Serum neurofilament light protein correlates with unfavorable clinical outcomes in hospitalized patients with COVID-19

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Science Translational Medicine  14 Jul 2021:
Vol. 13, Issue 602, eabi7643
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.abi7643

Brain damage marker in COVID-19

SARS-CoV-2 infection, the cause of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), causes neurological manifestations in a substantial proportion of patients. Determining the extent of neuronal injury is essential to better understand disease pathophysiology and to evaluate potential therapies. Prudencio et al. analyzed serum from 142 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and showed that the expression of the neurofilament light protein (NFL), a marker of neuroaxonal injury, was elevated compared to healthy controls. In addition, serum NFL expression correlated with disease severity and tended to be reduced in subjects treated with remdesivir. The results suggest that serum NFL analysis should be incorporated when evaluating therapeutic trials for COVID-19.


Brain imaging studies of patients with COVID-19 show evidence of macro- and microhemorrhagic lesions, multifocal white matter hyperintensities, and lesions consistent with posterior reversible leukoencephalopathy. Imaging studies, however, are subject to selection bias, and prospective studies are challenging to scale. Here, we evaluated whether serum neurofilament light chain (NFL), a neuroaxonal injury marker, could predict the extent of neuronal damage in a cohort of 142 hospitalized patients with COVID-19. NFL was elevated in the serum of patients with COVID-19 compared to healthy controls, including those without overt neurological manifestations. Higher NFL serum concentrations were associated with worse clinical outcomes. In 100 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 treated with remdesivir, a trend toward lower NFL serum concentrations was observed. These data suggest that patients with COVID-19 may experience neuroaxonal injury and may be at risk for long-term neurological sequelae. Neuroaxonal injury should be considered as an outcome in acute pharmacotherapeutic trials for COVID-19.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution license, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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