Headache. 2023 Oct 5. doi: 10.1111/head.14635. Online ahead of print.
OBJECTIVE: The objective of this study was to characterize the utility of calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) and nerve growth factor (NGF) as potential biomarkers for headache and pain disorders in the post-military deployment setting.
BACKGROUND: The need to improve recognition, assessment, and prognoses of individuals with posttraumatic headache or other pain has increased interest in the potential of CGRP and NGF as biomarkers.
METHODS: The Warrior Strong Study (NCT01847040) is an observational longitudinal study of United States-based soldiers who had recently returned from deployment to Afghanistan or Iraq from 2009 to 2014. The present nested cross-sectional analysis uses baseline data collected from soldiers returning to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
RESULTS: In total, 264 soldiers (mean (standard deviation [SD] age 28.1 [6.4] years, 230/264 [87.1%] men, 171/263 [65.0%] White) were analyzed. Mean (SD) plasma levels of CGRP were 1.3 (1.1) pg/mL and mean levels of NGF were 1.4 (0.4) pg/mL. Age was negatively correlated with NGF (-0.01 pg/mL per year, p = 0.007) but was not associated with CGRP. Men had higher mean (SD) CGRP plasma levels than women (1.4 95% confidence interval [CI; 1.2] vs. 0.9 95% CI [0.5] pg/mL, p < 0.002, Kruskal-Wallis test). CGRP levels were lower in participants who had a headache at the time of the blood draw (1.0 [0.6] pg/mL vs. 1.4 [1.2] pg/mL, p = 0.024). NGF was lower in participants with continuous pain (all types; 1.2 [0.4] vs. 1.4 [0.4] pg/mL, p = 0.027) and was lower in participants with traumatic brain injury (TBI) + posttraumatic headache (PTH) versus TBI without PTH (1.3 [0.3] vs. 1.4 [0.4] pg/mL, p = 0.021). Otherwise, CGRP and NGF were not associated with migraine-like headache, TBI status, or headache burden as measured by the number of medical encounters in crude or adjusted models.
CONCLUSION: In this exploratory study, plasma levels of NGF and CGRP showed promise as biomarkers for headache and other types of pain. These findings need to be replicated in other cohorts.