Serum neurofilament light concentrations are associated with cortical thinning in anorexia nervosa

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review


BackgroundAnorexia nervosa (AN) is characterized by severe emaciation and drastic reductions of brain mass, but the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. The present study investigated the putative association between the serum-based protein markers of brain damage neurofilament light (NF-L), tau protein, and glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) and cortical thinning in acute AN. MethodsBlood samples and magnetic resonance imaging scans were obtained from 52 predominantly adolescent, female patients with AN before and after partial weight restoration (increase in body mass index >14%). The effect of marker levels before weight gain and change in marker levels on cortical thickness (CT) was modeled at each vertex of the cortical surface using linear mixed-effect models. To test whether the observed effects were specific to AN, follow-up analyses exploring a potential general association of marker levels with CT were conducted in a female healthy control (HC) sample (n = 147). ResultsIn AN, higher baseline levels of NF-L, an established marker of axonal damage, were associated with lower CT in several regions, with the most prominent clusters located in bilateral temporal lobes. Tau protein and GFAP were not associated with CT. In HC, no associations between damage marker levels and CT were detected. ConclusionsA speculative interpretation would be that cortical thinning in acute AN might be at least partially a result of axonal damage processes. Further studies should thus test the potential of serum NF-L to become a reliable, low-cost and minimally invasive marker of structural brain alterations in AN.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7053-7061
Number of pages9
JournalPsychological medicine
Issue number2
Early online date27 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - 27 Mar 2023

External IDs

PubMed 36967674
Scopus 85151474971
Mendeley c4ac1e33-b7ab-3c30-a1cf-28520cce1e76
ORCID /0000-0002-2864-5578/work/142233499
ORCID /0000-0003-2132-4445/work/142236363
ORCID /0000-0002-6152-5834/work/142241984
ORCID /0000-0002-5112-405X/work/142242689
ORCID /0000-0002-5413-0359/work/142248937
ORCID /0000-0002-5026-1239/work/142250313
ORCID /0000-0001-8333-867X/work/142251385


Research priority areas of TU Dresden

Sustainable Development Goals


  • Anorexia nervosa, Cortical thickness, Glial fibrillary acidic protein, Neurofilament light, Tau protein, cortical thickness, glial fibrillary acidic protein, neurofilament light, tau protein, Brain, Humans, tau Proteins, Intermediate Filaments, Adolescent, Biomarkers, Female, Anorexia Nervosa/diagnostic imaging, Cerebral Cortical Thinning