Neurofilaments and MS: A new playing field?

The latest research suggests that NFL is a useful biomarker for multiple sclerosis. No, we are not talking about the National Football League – don’t worry, your doctor won’t be asking you to pick up a football and run across a field the next time you visit them for an appointment. NfL is also the scientific acronym for neurofilament light chain.

Neurofilament light chain is a protein found in nerve cells and is released into the cerebrospinal fluid and blood when a nerve cell degenerates, is damaged or dies (1). In MS, nerve cells can become damaged and die, leading to the release of NfL, making it a good potential marker of the disease – but could it be used to show the severity or the progression of MS? Could NfL levels be the yard lines of MS?

Where’s the defense?

There is increasing evidence to support the potential use of NfL levels as biomarkers for MS. Recently, researchers performed a review of 15 studies which looked at NfL levels either in the CSF or in the blood. This included a total of 1,665 MS patients overall. They found the levels of NFL in patients with MS were significantly higher than in control participants who are not affected by MS, both in the CSF and in the blood. The researchers concluded that NfL has the potential to be a predictive marker to monitor MS progression and even the effectiveness of treatment. (2)

What does this mean for people with MS?

If NfL proves to be an effective measure of MS disease activity and treatment response, it could be used in a number of ways. As the researchers concluded from the study, it could be used in developing and testing new treatments. It could also allow for more personalized treatment of MS based on a person’s NfL levels and their predicted progression rate; every person with MS could have their own treatment “game plan”.

Getting to the end zone

More evidence is needed before scientists will be able to touch down on a conclusion. Researchers will need to study lots more people with MS and measure their levels of NfL, in order to match the different levels with what they might mean in terms of predicting progression. But it’s possible that in the future, when someone is first diagnosed with MS, they will be able to find out how their disease is likely to progress and this is turn could help better treat the disease.

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