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Research paper
CSF chitinase proteins in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  1. Alexander G Thompson1,
  2. Elizabeth Gray1,
  3. Alexander Bampton1,
  4. Dominika Raciborska2,
  5. Kevin Talbot1,
  6. Martin R Turner1
  1. 1 Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, Oxford University, Oxford, UK
  2. 2 Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Martin R Turner, Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, Oxford University, Oxford OX3 9DU, UK; martin.turner{at}


Objective To evaluate the classifier performance, clinical and biochemical correlations of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) levels of the chitinase proteins Chitotriosidase-1 (CHIT1), Chitinase-3-like protein 1 (CHI3L1) and Chitinase-3-like protein 2 (CHI3L2) in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Methods CSF levels of CHIT1, CHI3L1, CHI3L2, phosphorylated neurofilament heavy chain (pNFH) and C-reactive protein were measured by ELISA in a longitudinal cohort of patients with ALS (n=82), primary lateral sclerosis (PLS, n=10), ALS-mimic conditions (n=12), healthy controls (n=25) and asymptomatic carriers of ALS-causing genetic mutations (AGC; n=5).

Results CSF CHIT1, CHI3L1 and CHI3L2 were elevated in patients with ALS compared with healthy controls (p<0.001) and ALS-mimics (CHIT1, p<0.001; CHI3L1, p=0.017; CHI3L2, p<0.001). CHIT1 and CHI3L2 were elevated in ALS compared with PLS (CHIT1, p=0.021; CHI3L1, p=0.417; CHI3L2, p<0.001). Chitinase levels were similar in AGCs and healthy controls. Chitinase proteins distinguished ALS from healthy controls (area under the curve (AUC): CHIT1 0.92; CHI3L1 0.80; CHI3L2 0.90), mimics (AUC: CHIT1 0.84; CHI3L1 0.73; CHI3L2 0.88) and, to a lesser extent, PLS (AUC: CHIT 0.73; CHI3L1 0.51; CHI3L2 0.82) but did not outperform pNFH. CHIT1 and CHI3L2 correlated with disease progression rate (Pearson’s r=0.49, p<0.001; r=0.42, p<0.001, respectively). CHI3L1 correlated with degree of cognitive dysfunction (r=−0.25, p=0.038). All chitinases correlated with pNFH. CHIT1 levels were associated with survival in multivariate models. Chitinase levels were longitudinally stable.

Conclusions CSF chitinase proteins may have limited value as independent diagnostic and stratification biomarkers in ALS, but offer a window into non-autonomous mechanisms of motor neuronal loss in ALS, specifically in assessing response to therapies targeting neuroinflammatory pathways.

  • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • motor neuron disease
  • inflammation
  • biomarker
  • microglia

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  • AGT and EG contributed equally.

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  • Contributors AGT, EG and MRT planned the study. MRT, AGT and KT performed participant clinical characterisation and sampling. AGT, EG, AB and DR performed quantitative assays and statistical analysis. AGT and EG drafted the manuscript and figures.

  • Funding Study was funded through the Medical Research Council & Motor Neurone Disease Association Lady Edith Wolfson Senior Clinical Fellowship awarded to MRT (MR/K01014X/1).

  • Competing interests pNfH assay kits were provided in kind by Euroimmun UK

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data are available on reasonable request.