Blood Test Detects Rate of Brain Cell Death from Alzheimer’s Up to 16 Years Before Signs of Dementia

Scientists at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE), the Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research (HIH) and the University Hospital Tübingen now show that a protein found in the blood can be used to precisely monitor disease progression long before first clinical signs appear.

When brain cells die, their remains can be detected in the blood. However, most proteins degrade too rapidly.

Neurofilament light chain (NfL) is resistant to breaking down in the blood. Scientists have shown that neurofilament accumulates in the blood long before the onset of clinical symptoms and it very sensitively reflects the course of Alzheimer’s disease and enables predictions on future developments.

Omens of dementia

Jucker and his colleagues monitored the development of neurofilament concentration in these individuals from year to year. Up to 16 years before the calculated onset of dementia symptoms, there were noticeable changes in the blood. “It is not the absolute neurofilament concentration, but its temporal evolution, which is meaningful and allows predictions about the future progression of the disease,” says Jucker. In fact, in further investigations, the scientists showed that changes in neurofilament concentration reflect neuronal degradation very accurately and allow predictions on how brain damage will develop. “We were able to predict loss of brain mass and cognitive changes that actually occurred two years later,” says Jucker.

Nature Medicine – Serum neurofilament dynamics predicts neurodegeneration and clinical progression in presymptomatic Alzheimer’s disease


Neurofilament light chain (NfL) is a promising fluid biomarker of disease progression for various cerebral proteopathies. Here we leverage the unique characteristics of the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network and ultrasensitive immunoassay technology to demonstrate that NfL levels in the cerebrospinal fluid (n = 187) and serum (n = 405) are correlated with one another and are elevated at the presymptomatic stages of familial Alzheimer’s disease. Longitudinal, within-person analysis of serum NfL dynamics (n = 196) confirmed this elevation and further revealed that the rate of change of serum NfL could discriminate mutation carriers from non-mutation carriers almost a decade earlier than cross-sectional absolute NfL levels (that is, 16.2 versus 6.8 years before the estimated symptom onset). Serum NfL rate of change peaked in participants converting from the presymptomatic to the symptomatic stage and was associated with cortical thinning assessed by magnetic resonance imaging, but less so with amyloid-β deposition or glucose metabolism (assessed by positron emission tomography). Serum NfL was predictive for both the rate of cortical thinning and cognitive changes assessed by the Mini–Mental State Examination and Logical Memory test. Thus, NfL dynamics in serum predict disease progression and brain neurodegeneration at the early presymptomatic stages of familial Alzheimer’s disease, which supports its potential utility as a clinically useful biomarker.

8 thoughts on “Blood Test Detects Rate of Brain Cell Death from Alzheimer’s Up to 16 Years Before Signs of Dementia”

  1. That could have many uses. DESTAR against asteroids–lightsails, etc.

    F-35 is a waste because it is of no help in downing ICBMs–or anything else.

  2. Here is an interesting idea for the military – once SpaceX is launching its Starlink network, create some spy-sats that have the Starlink comm hardware bolted on. Then secretly launch them with the regular Starlink satellites. Then to be really cheeky, pay Starlink to add fake cameras/telescopes on some of the regular satellites – just needs to look real enough to fool ground based telescopes. The result would be network of where other countries would have a difficult time knowing if spy sats were overhead or not.

  3. Well that’s an interesting comment. Yes, we have LOTS of satellites and all those satellites have some sort of sensor…but not the right sensors for this application.

  4. The DoD is looking to put a space-based sensor system in LEO (“Blackjack”), much like the planned “Starlink” system Musk wants to use for space-based ISP. Lots of small sensors (satellites) that fall to Earth in 5-7 years anyways, forcing a refresh of the system and (theoretically) updated/upgraded sensors. With cheap(er) launch costs (Falcon 9, New Glenn, Vector, etc) it seems quite achievable. The “trick” will be managing a constellation of 70+ satellites in a dynamic environment (Earth’s atmosphere is not smooth or uniform) to retain coverage.

  5. The headline is very strange. We have space-based sensors. They’re called satellites. been launching them into orbit for decades. The source at the Pentagon is engaging in marketing jingoism because space-based sensors sounds sexier than satellites in the same way front-facing automotive illumination orbs is sexier than saying headlights.

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