The University of Florida says that the research team from its McKnight Brain Institute has identified a humoral marker that, if proven to be sensitive and specific enough, will help to diagnose traumatic brain injuries or brain diseases. The marker is a protein called neurofilament triplet H protein (NF-H):
UF scientists have discovered they can use an approach similar to one commonly used in HIV or pregnancy testing to find bits of axons–nerve fibers that help brain cells communicate–in the blood and spinal fluid of laboratory rats modeling human spinal cord or traumatic brain injuries.
The discovery could lead to tests for the clinic or battlefield to diagnose ailments with just a few drops of blood, bypassing cumbersome and expensive CT or MRI brain scanning equipment. The researchers report their findings in the current online edition of Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications.
The cellular debris, derived from a protein called NF-H, was not found in the blood or other fluids of healthy animals and humans. That leads researchers to believe it is a biomarker, a substance in blood that signals the presence of disease or injury…
Investigators detect the NF-H protein with a widely used screening method called an ELISA, short for enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Versions of it are used to test women for pregnancy and screen patients for HIV. It uses components of the immune system called antibodies, which have a natural affinity to latch onto certain compounds.
In this case, Shaw developed antibodies that react positively to the presence of NF-H. The structure of the molecule lends itself to easy detection, because it contains protein sequences that are repeated dozens of times, each of which can be bound by a detection antibody, increasing the sensitivity of the test. Other potential biomarkers may be identifiable by only one short, non-repeating sequence, making the task more difficult.
“NF-H is a very stable protein; one that does not degrade easily,” said Jean-Pierre Julien, Canada research chair in the mechanisms of neurodegeneration at the Universite Laval in Quebec, who was not connected with the UF study. “It makes sense that when there is damage to axons this protein would be released and would be detectable.”
The next step is for researchers to determine whether the release of NF-H is a universal characteristic of all brain injury and disease.
The press release…