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NfL and pNfH are increased in Friedreich's ataxia

The objective of this study was to assess neurofilaments as neurodegenerative biomarkers in serum of patients with Friedreich's ataxia. Single molecule array measurements of neurofilament light (NfL) and heavy chain (pNfH) in 99 patients with genetically confirmed Friedreich's ataxia were performed and correlation of NfL/pNfH serum levels with disease severity, disease duration, age, age at onset, and GAA repeat length was assessed. Median serum levels of NfL were 21.2 pg/ml (range 3.6-49.3) in controls and 26.1 pg/ml (0-78.1) in Friedreich's ataxia (p = 0.002). pNfH levels were 23.5 pg/ml (13.3-43.3) in controls and 92 pg/ml (3.1-303) in Friedreich's ataxia (p = 0.0004). NfL levels were significantly increased in younger patients (age 16-31 years, p < 0.001) and patients aged 32-47 years (p = 0.008), but not in patients of age 48 years and older (p = 0.41). In a longitudinal assessment, there was no difference in NfL levels in 14 patients with repeated sampling 2 years after baseline measurement. Levels of NfL correlated inversely with GAA1 repeat length (r = - 0.24, p = 0.02) but not with disease severity (r = - 0.13, p = 0.22), disease duration (r = - 0.06, p = 0.53), or age at onset (r = 0.05, p = 0.62). Serum levels of NfL and pNfH are elevated in Friedreich's ataxia, but differences to healthy controls decrease with increasing age. Long-term longitudinal data are required to explore whether this reflects a selection bias from early death of more severely affected individuals or a slowing down of the neurodegenerative process with age. In a pilot study over 2 years of follow-up-a period relevant for biomarkers indicating treatment effects, NfL levels were found to be stable.

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