Plasma neurofilament light chain protein as a predictor of days in delirium and deep sedation, mortality and length of stay in critically ill patients

Valerie J. Page, Leiv Otto Watne, Amanda Heslegrave, Allan Clark, Daniel F. McAuley, Robert D. Sanders, Henrik Zetterberg

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Background: Delirium predicts poor outcomes, however identifying patients with the worst outcomes is challenging. Plasma neurofilament light protein (NfL) is a sensitive indicator of neuronal damage. We undertook an exploratory observational study to determine the association between plasma NfL and delirium in the critically ill.

Methods: MoDUS was a randomised placebo-controlled delirium trial of simvastatin done in an UK adult general ICU. We measured NfL levels in plasma samples using a Single molecule array (Simoa) platform. We explored associations between patient's plasma NfL levels and number of delirium days, and clinical outcomes. The control group for baseline NfL were preoperative patients undergoing major surgery.

Findings: The majority of critically ill patients already had a high NfL level on admission. Patients with higher plasma NfL levels at days one and three spent more days in delirium or deep sedation. Patients with zero or one day in delirium or deep sedation had day one mean concentrations of 37.8 pg/ml (SD 32.6) compared with 96.5 pg/ml (SD 106.1)) for patients with two days or more, p-value 0.002 linear mixed effects model.

Survivors discharged before 14 days had lower mean plasma NfL concentrations compared to those with longer hospital stays and/or who died within six months. The area under ROC curve for predicting death within six months using day one NfL was 0.81 (0.7,0.9).

Interpretation: Measurement of plasma NfL within three days of admission may be useful to identify those patients with worse clinical outcomes, and as an enrichment strategy for future delirium interventional trials in the critically ill.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104043
Early online date6 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022


  • Biomarker
  • Critical care
  • Delirium
  • Intensive care
  • Neurofilament light protein

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