February 16, 2017
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Simple blood test may be as accurate as spinal fluid test for diagnosing Parkinson's

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The blood neurofilament light chain protein can be used to distinguish Parkinson’s disease from atypical parkinsonism disorders such as multiple system atrophy, progressive supranuclear palsy and corticobasal degeneration, according to research recently published in Neurology.

“Our findings are exciting because when Parkinson's or an atypical parkinsonism disorder is suspected, one simple blood test will help a physician to give their patient a more accurate diagnosis,” according to Oskar Hansson, MD, PhD, associate professor, Lund University, Sweden. “These atypical parkinsonism disorders are rare, but they generally progress much faster and are more likely to be the cause of death than Parkinson's disease, so it's important for patients and their families to receive the best care possible and to plan for their future needs.”

Hansson and colleagues included three independent prospective cohorts in their study: the Lund (n = 278) and London (n = 117) cohorts, made up of healthy controls and patients with Parkinson’s disease, progressive supranuclear palsy, corticobasal syndrome, and multiple system atrophy; and an early disease cohort (n = 109) of patients with these conditions for 3 years or less. The patients’ blood neurofilament light chain concentration was measured using an ultrasensitive single molecule array method known as Simoa (Quanterix). This tool, as Healio Family Medicine has previously reported, uses single molecule measurements to access previously undetectable proteins in blood, advancing and accelerating disease diagnoses and treatment.

The researchers reported that they found strong correlations between blood and cerebrospinal fluid concentrations of neurofilament light chain protein (P 0.001). Levels of blood neurofilament light chain protein was increased in patients with the atypical parkinsonism disorders when compared with the healthy controls and patients with Parkinson’s disease. In the Lund cohort, blood neurofilament light chain protein accurately distinguished Parkinson’s disease from the atypical parkinsonism disorders (area under the curve = 0.91) with similar results in both the London cohort (area under the curve = 0.85) and the early disease cohort (area under the curve = 0.81).

“Blood biomarkers have previously been suggested to improve the diagnostic accuracy of neurodegenerative disorder like Alzheimer’s disease or multiple system atrophy, but subsequent studies have not been able to reproduce the findings,” Hansson and colleagues wrote. “This highlights the importance of always using at least two independent cohorts obtained at different clinics when evaluating biomarkers. Importantly, in the present study we obtained similar results for blood [neurofilament light chain protein] in three independent cohorts, indicating that this is indeed a robust marker for differentiating [Parkinson’s disease] from [atypical parkinsonism disorders].” – by Janel Miller

Disclosure: Hansson reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the study for a list of all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.