Aims and hypothesis: Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) remains an important cause of death and disability in newborns. Mild therapeutic hypothermia (TH) is safe and effective; however, there are no tissue biomarkers available at the bedside to select babies for treatment. The aim of this study was to show that it is feasible to study plasma neurofilament light (NfL) levels from newborns and to evaluate their temporal course. Hypothesis: Raised plasma NFL protein levels from newborns who undergo TH after HIE are associated with abnormal MRI outcomes. Methods: Between February 2014 and January 2016, term newborns with HIE treated with TH for 72 h had plasma samples taken at three time points: (i) after the infant had reached target temperature, (ii) prior to commencing rewarming, and (iii) after completing rewarming. Infants with mild HIE who did not receive TH had a single specimen taken. NfL protein was analyzed using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Results: Twenty-six newborns with moderate-severe HIE treated with TH were studied. Half of these had cerebral MRI predictive of an unfavorable outcome. Plasma NfL levels were significantly higher in the TH group with unfavorable outcome (median age 18 h) compared to levels from both the mild HIE group and TH group with favorable outcome (F = 25.83, p < 0.0001). Newborns who had MRIs predictive of unfavorable outcome had significantly higher NfL levels compared to those with favorable outcomes, at all three time points (mixed models, F = 27.63, p < 0.001). A cutoff NfL level > 29 pg/mL at 24 h is predictive of an unfavorable outcome [sensitivity 77%, specificity 69%, positive predictive value (PPV) 67%, negative predictive value (NPV) 72%] with increasing predictive value until after rewarming (sensitivity 92%, specificity 92%, PPV 92%, NPV 86%). Interpretation of research: Plasma NfL protein levels may be a useful biomarker of unfavorable MRI outcomes in newborns with moderate-severe HIE and may assist in selecting newborns for adjunctive neuroprotective interventions. Larger studies with NfL testing at earlier time points are required.
- Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy
- MRI imaging
- Neurofilament proteins
- Therapeutic hypothermia