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Original research
GFAP as a biomarker in frontotemporal dementia and primary psychiatric disorders: diagnostic and prognostic performance


Background Frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) and primary psychiatric disorders (PPD) are characterised by overlapping clinical features but different aetiologies. Here, we assessed for the first time the potential of blood glial fibrillar acidic protein (GFAP), marker of astrogliosis, as a discriminative and prognostic tool in FTLD and PPD.

Methods The levels of GFAP in serum (sGFAP) of patients with FTLD (N=107) and PPD (N=44) and GFAP in whole blood samples (bGFAP) from FTLD (N=10), PPD (N=10) and healthy controls (N=18) were measured. We evaluated whether the sGFAP levels associate with C9orf72 repeat expansion, survival of FTLD and PPD patients, and brain atrophy assessed cross-sectionally and longitudinally by structural T1W MRI. We also examined the correlation between sGFAP and bGFAP levels in a subset of patients.

Results sGFAP and bGFAP levels were elevated in the FTLD group compared with the PPD or control groups. Receiver operating characteristic analysis indicated an excellent diagnostic performance between FTLD and PPD (the area under the curve (AUC)=0.820, 95% CI 0.745 to 0.896). sGFAP and bGFAP levels showed a strong correlation and elevated sGFAP levels significantly associated with atrophy rate in the temporal cortex and predicted shorter survival time in patients with FTLD. No association with C9orf72 repeat expansion was detected.

Conclusions sGFAP enabled differentiation of patients with FTLD and PPD and associated with shorter survival and more severe brain atrophy rate in patients with FTLD. These results suggest that blood-based GFAP represents a minimally invasive and useful biomarker in the differential diagnostics between patients with FTLD and PPD and in evaluating disease progression and astrogliosis in FTLD.

  • frontotemporal dementia
  • MRI

Data availability statement

The datasets generated and analysed during the present study are available from the corresponding authors upon reasonable request.

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