Neurofilaments are a class of proteins associated with structural integrity of the neuron (nerve cell). Following nerve damage, these neurofilaments can be detected in serum extracted from blood samples, or cerebrospinal fluid, and changes in neurofilament levels could be related to changes in the health of neurons and, ultimately, disability.

In this study from University Hospital Basel and University of California, USA, investigators looked at serum samples gathered during a clinical trial of a drug called riluzole in people with MS. Participants had relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) or a clinically isolated syndrome with less than 12 months duration.

They found that neurofilament levels were related to clinical disability changes (known as EDSS) and neuropsychological measures. They also found that people who had higher neurofilament levels in their serum at the beginning of the trial showed a higher rate of brain shrinkage (atrophy) over the following two years.

Neurofilament levels may therefore be used as a marker of damage to brain cells in people with early MS.

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