Cerebrospinal Fluid Neurofilament Light Chain (NfL) Predicts Disease Aggressiveness in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis: An Application of the D50 Disease Progression Model

Marie Dreger, Robert Steinbach*, Nayana Gaur, Klara Metzner, Beatrice Stubendorff, Otto W. Witte, Julian Grosskreutz

*Corresponding author for this work
2 Citations (Scopus)


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a relentlessly progressive neurodegenerative disorder. As previous therapeutic trials in ALS have been severely hampered by patients’ heterogeneity, the identification of biomarkers that reliably reflect disease progression represents a priority in ALS research. Here, we used the D50 disease progression model to investigate correlations between cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) neurofilament light chain (NfL) levels and disease aggressiveness. The D50 model quantifies individual disease trajectories for each ALS patient. The value D50 provides a unified measure of a patient’s overall disease aggressiveness (defined as time taken in months to lose 50% of functionality). The relative D50 (rD50) reflects the individual disease covered and can be calculated for any time point in the disease course. We analyzed clinical data from a well-defined cohort of 156 patients with ALS. The concentration of NfL in CSF samples was measured at two different laboratories using the same procedure. Based on patients’ individual D50 values, we defined subgroups with high (<20), intermediate (20–40), or low (>40) disease aggressiveness. NfL levels were compared between these subgroups via analysis of covariance, using an array of confounding factors: age, gender, clinical phenotype, frontotemporal dementia, rD50-derived disease phase, and analyzing laboratory. We found highly significant differences in NfL concentrations between all three D50 subgroups (p < 0.001), representing an increase of NfL levels with increasing disease aggressiveness. The conducted analysis of covariance showed that this correlation was independent of gender, disease phenotype, and phase; however, age, analyzing laboratory, and dementia significantly influenced NfL concentration. We could show that CSF NfL is independent of patients’ disease covered at the time of sampling. The present study provides strong evidence for the potential of NfL to reflect disease aggressiveness in ALS and in addition proofed to remain at stable levels throughout the disease course. Implementation of CSF NfL as a potential read-out for future therapeutic trials in ALS is currently constrained by its demonstrated susceptibility to (pre-)analytical variations. Here we show that the D50 model enables the discovery of correlations between clinical characteristics and CSF analytes and can be recommended for future studies evaluating potential biomarkers.

Original languageEnglish
Article number651651
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 06.04.2021

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)
  • Centers: Center for Neuromuscular Diseases


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