Publications & Posters

Plasma neurofilament light as a potential biomarker for cognitive decline in a longitudinal study of middle-aged urban adults

Translational Psychiatry | August 21, 2021

Beydoun MA, Noren Hooten N, Beydoun HA, Maldonado AI, Weiss J, Evans MK and Zonderman AB

Translational psychiatry. 2021;11:436


Plasma neurofilament light (NfL) is a marker for neurodegenerative diseases. Few studies have examined the association of NfL with middle-aged changes in cognitive performance, and no studies have examined differential NfL effects by race. Using data from the Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity across the Life Span (HANDLS) study (n = 625, Agev1: 30–66 y, 41.6% male, 56.3% African American, 27.8% below poverty), we investigated the associations of initial NfL levels and annualized change with cognitive performance over time in global mental status, verbal and visual memory, fluency, attention, and executive function. We used ordinary least squares and mixed-effects regressions stratified by race, while exploring differential associations by age group, sex, and poverty status. Over a mean follow-up of 4.3 years, we found initial NfL level was associated with a faster decline on normalized mental status scores in Whites only and in those >50 years old. Annualized increase in NfL was associated with a greater decline in verbal fluency in men. In other exploratory analyses, annualized increase in NfL was associated with a slower decline in verbal memory among individuals living above poverty; in the older group (>50 years), first-visit NfL was linked with better performance at baseline in global mental status and verbal memory. In summary, first-visit NfL was primarily associated with the global mental status decline among Whites, while exhibiting inconsistent relationships in some exploratory analyses. Plasma NfL levels can be detected and quantified in non-demented middle-aged adults and changes can be analyzed over time. More longitudinal studies are needed to address the clinical utility of this biomarker for early cognitive defects.