Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be associated with long-term neurobehavioral symptoms. Here, we examined levels of neurofilament light chain (NfL) and glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) in extracellular vesicles isolated from blood, and their relationship with TBI severity and neurobehavioral symptom reporting. Participants were 218 service members and veterans who sustained uncomplicated mild TBIs (mTBI, n = 107); complicated mild, moderate, or severe TBIs (smcTBI, n = 66); or Injured controls (IC, orthopedic injury without TBI, n = 45). Within one year after injury, but not after, NfL was higher in the smcTBI group than mTBI (p = 0.001, d = 0.66) and IC (p = 0.001, d = 0.35) groups, which remained after controlling for demographics and injury characteristics. NfL also discriminated the smcTBI group from IC (AUC:77.5%, p < 0.001) and mTBI (AUC:76.1%, p < 0.001) groups. No other group differences were observed for NfL or GFAP at either timepoint. NfL correlated with post-concussion symptoms (rs = − 0.38, p = 0.04) in the mTBI group, and with PTSD symptoms in mTBI (rs = − 0.43, p = 0.021) and smcTBI groups (rs = − 0.40, p = 0.024) within one year after injury, which was not confirmed in regression models. Our results suggest the potential of NfL, a protein previously linked to axonal damage, as a diagnostic biomarker that distinguishes TBI severity within the first year after injury.
ASJC Scopus subject areas