Neurofilament light protein (NfL) and chitinase 3–like 1 (CHI3L1) are biomarkers for acute neuroaxonal damage and local inflammation, respectively. Thus, we set out to evaluate how these biomarkers were associated with clinical features of demyelinating diseases in parallel with the expression in brain autopsies from patients with similar disease stages, assuming their comparability.
NfL and CHI3L1 in CSF and serum CHI3L1 were assessed retrospectively in a cross-sectional cohort of controls (n = 17) and patients diagnosed with MS (n = 224), relapsing (n = 163) or progressive (n = 61); neuromyelitis optica (NMO, n = 7); and acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM, n = 15). Inflammatory activity was evaluated at the time of sampling, and CSF biomarker levels were related to the degree of inflammation in 22 brain autopsy tissues.
During a clinical attack, the CSF NfL increased in MS, NMO, and ADEM, whereas CHI3L1 was only elevated in patients with NMO and ADEM and in outlier MS patients with extensive radiologic activity. Outside relapses, CHI3L1 levels only remained elevated in patients with progressive MS. CHI3L1 was detected in macrophages and astrocytes, predominantly in areas of active demyelination, and its expression by astrocytes in chronic lesions was independent of lymphocyte infiltrates and associated with active neurodegeneration.
Both CSF NfL and CHI3L1 augment during acute inflammation in demyelinating diseases. In MS, CHI3L1 may be associated with low-grade nonlymphocytic inflammation and active neurodegeneration and therefore linked to progressive disease.
Classification of Evidence
This study provides Class III evidence that CSF NfL and CHI3L1 levels increase in inflammatory brain diseases during acute inflammation.