Circulating brain-enriched microRNAs as novel biomarkers for detection and differentiation of neurodegenerative diseases

Kira S. Sheinerman, Jon B. Toledo, Vladimir G. Tsivinsky, David Irwin, Murray Grossman, Daniel Weintraub, Howard I. Hurtig, Alice Chen-Plotkin, David A. Wolk, Leo F. McCluskey, Lauren B. Elman, John Q. Trojanowski, Samuil R. Umansky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


Background: Minimally invasive specific biomarkers of neurodegenerative diseases (NDs) would facilitate patient selection and disease progression monitoring. We describe the assessment of circulating brain-enriched microRNAs as potential biomarkers for Alzheimer's disease (AD), frontotemporal dementia (FTD), Parkinson's disease (PD), and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Methods: In this case-control study, the plasma samples were collected from 250 research participants with a clinical diagnosis of AD, FTD, PD, and ALS, as well as from age- and sex-matched control subjects (n = 50 for each group), recruited from 2003 to 2015 at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, including the Alzheimer's Disease Center, the Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders Center, the Frontotemporal Degeneration Center, and the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Clinic. Each group was randomly divided into training and confirmation sets of equal size. To evaluate the potential of circulating microRNAs enriched in specific brain regions affected by NDs and present in synapses as biomarkers of NDs, the levels of 37 brain-enriched and inflammation-associated microRNAs in the plasma of all participants were measured using individual qRT-PCR. A "microRNA pair" approach was used for data normalization. Results: MicroRNA pairs and their combinations (classifiers) capable of differentiating NDs from control and from each other were defined using independently and jointly analyzed training and confirmation datasets. AD, PD, FTD, and ALS are differentiated from control with accuracy of 0.89, 0.90, 0.88, and 0.83 (AUCs, 0.96, 0.96, 0.94, and 0.93), respectively; NDs are differentiated from each other with accuracy ranging from 0.77 (AUC, 0.87) for AD vs. FTD to 0.93 (AUC, 0.98) for AD vs. ALS. The data further indicate sex dependence of some microRNA markers. The average increase in accuracy in distinguishing ND from control for all and male/female groups is 0.06; the largest increase is for ALS, from 0.83 for all participants to 0.92/0.98 for male/female participants. Conclusions: The work presented here suggests the possibility of developing microRNA-based diagnostics for detection and differentiation of NDs. Larger multicenter clinical studies are needed to further evaluate circulating brain-enriched microRNAs as biomarkers for NDs and to investigate their association with other ND biomarkers in clinical trial settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number89
JournalAlzheimer's Research and Therapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 9 2017


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • Blood-based biomarkers
  • Frontotemporal dementia
  • microRNA
  • Parkinson's disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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