Publications & Posters

Neurofilaments in Blood is a New Promising Preclinical Biomarker for The Screening of Natural Scrapie in Sheep


Zetterberg H, Bozzetta E, Favole A, Corona C, Cavarretta MC, Ingravalle F, Blennow K, Pocchiari M and Meloni D.

PLoS One. 2019;14:e0226697.


This study was peformed using a Simoa® Homebrew assay.


Scrapie is a fatal neurodegenerative disease of sheep and goats belonging to the group of Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy or prion diseases. The EU has adopted mandatory measures for scrapie surveillance to safeguard public and animal health because it is highly contagious and might decimate all genetic susceptible animals in affected flocks. Definite diagnosis of scrapie relies on the detection of the pathological prion protein in brain tissues and there are still no blood biomarkers available for making diagnosis in living animals that can be used for the screening of sheep in scrapie-affected flocks. Neurofilament light (NfL) protein, a valid biomarker for neuronal and axonal damages, can now be easily measured in blood by the ultra-sensitive single molecule array (Simoa) technology. Recent work reported that serum NfL is increased in neurodegenerative diseases, including human prion diseases, but no data are available for scrapie or other animal prion diseases. Here, we found that the median serum NfL concentration in scrapie animals (56.2, IQR 42.2–84.8, n = 9) was more than 15 times higher (p = 0.00084) than that found in control samples (3.4, IQR 3.0–26.3, n = 11). Moreover, serum NfL concentration in scrapie sheep with clinical signs (n = 2; 75.3, 15.7 pg/ml) did not significantly (p = 0.541; t-test) differ from scrapie animals without clinical signs (n = 7; 61.0, 10.7 pg/ml). The receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve analysis estimated the cut-off value of 31 pg/ml serum NfL for distinguishing scrapie-infected sheep from controls. The application of this cut-off value gives an accuracy of the test of 95% (percent error of 5.23%). These data indicate that the Simoa test for serum NfL might be a useful screening method for detecting preclinical scrapie in living sheep. Finally, the preliminary data reported here need confirmation in large and more structured studies.