Serum neurofilament light chain (sNfL) levels reflect neuroaxonal damage and relate to disease activity in MS. sNfL may qualify as well as a biomarker of suboptimal treatment response to disease modifying therapies (DMT). Establishment of age-dependent reference ranges in healthy controls is a prerequisite for developing this biomarker for clinical use.
To compare on-treatment sNfL levels with values from a healthy control cohort and to investigate the effect of DMTs on sNfL levels in patients from the Swiss MS Cohort Study.
sNfL was measured (at baseline and every 6- or 12 months) with the NF-light® assay. Age-dependent sNfL z-scores (sNfLz) were modeled in healthy controls using a generalized additive model for location scale and shape to reflect the deviation of a patient sNfL value from the mean value of same age healthy controls. Linear mixed models were used to investigate the associations between clinical characteristics, DMT and longitudinal sNfLz. Interaction terms and splines were used to model sNfLz and for comparison log(NfL), and their dynamics under treatment.
sNfL was measured in 1368 patients with 7550 longitudinal samples (baseline: median age: 41.9 yrs; 5.4% CIS, 83.2% RRMS, 5.6% SPMS, 5.8% PPMS; median EDSS: 2.0; median follow-up: 4.6 yrs) and 4133 healthy controls with 8865 samples (median age: 44.8 yrs). In the multivariable model, sNfLz increased with EDSS (0.131/step, [95% CI 0.101;0.161]), recent (<120 days) relapse (0.739 [0.643;0.835]) decreased with age (-0.014/year [-0.02;-0.009]), and time on DMT (-0.040/year [-0.054;-0.027]); sNfLz were lower when sampled while on more effective DMT (oral versus platform injectables: -0.229 [-0.344;-0.144]; monoclonal antibodies (mAB) versus platform injectables: -0.349 [-0.475;-0.224]), (p<0.001 for all associations). sNfLz were inversely associated with the hierarchy in efficacy of mAB over orals and orals over platform therapies with regard to slope and extent of decrease (interaction between time under DMT and DMT class: p<0.001). sNfLz, but not log(NfL) showed normalization of sNfL levels by mAB to healthy control levels.
The dynamic change of sNfLz on DMT reflects closely their relative clinical efficacy and is more meaningful than log(sNfL) by excluding age as a confounding factor. Use of sNfLz based on a large normative database as an age-independent sNfL measure improves the accuracy of the sNfL signal and hence their clinical utility.