Longitudinal Performance of Plasma Neurofilament Light and Tau in Professional Fighters: The Professional Fighters Brain Health Study

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Journal of Neurotrauma


The aim of this study is to evaluate longitudinal change in plasma neurofilament light (NF-L) and tau levels in relationship to clinical and radiological measures in professional fighters. Participants (active and retired professional fighters and control group) underwent annual blood sampling, 3-Tesla magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain imaging, computerized cognitive testing, and assessment of exposure to traumatic brain injury. Plasma tau and NF-L concentrations were measured using Simoa assays. Multiple linear regression models were used to compare the difference across groups in regard to baseline measurements, whereas mixed linear models was used for the longitudinal data with multiple measurements for each participant. Plasma samples were available on 471 participants. Baseline NF-L measures differed across groups (F3,393 = 6.99; p = 0.0001), with the active boxers having the highest levels. Higher NF-L levels at baseline were correlated with lower baseline MRI regional volumes and lower cognitive scores. The number of sparring rounds completed by the active fighters was correlated with NF-L (95% confidence interval, 0.0116–0.4053; p = 0.0381), but not tau, levels. Among 126 subjects having multiple yearly samples, there was a significant difference in average yearly percentage change in tau across groups (F3,83 = 3.87; p = 0.0121). We conclude that plasma NF-L and tau behave differently in a group of active and retired fighters; NF-L better reflects acute exposure whereas the role of plasma tau levels in signifying chronic change in brain structure over time requires further study.


Mild traumatic brain injury; Neurofilament light; Tau





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