Prior efforts to identify a blood biomarker of brain injury have relied almost exclusively on proteins; however their low levels at early time points and poor correlation with injury severity have been limiting. Lipids, on the other hand, are the most abundant molecules in the brain and readily cross the blood-brain barrier. We previously showed that certain sphingolipid (SL) species are highly specific to the brain. Here we examined the feasibility of using SLs as biomarkers for acute brain injury. A rat model of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and a mouse model of stroke were used to identify candidate SL species though our mass-spectrometry based lipid profiling approach. Plasma samples collected after TBI in the rat showed large increases in many circulating SLs following injury, and larger lesions produced proportionately larger increases. Plasma samples collected 24 hours after stroke in mice similarly revealed a large increase in many SLs. We constructed an SL score (sum of the two SL species showing the largest relative increases in the mouse stroke model) and then evaluated the diagnostic value of this score on a small sample of patients (n = 14) who presented with acute stroke symptoms. Patients with true stroke had significantly higher SL scores than patients found to have non-stroke causes of their symptoms. The SL score correlated with the volume of ischemic brain tissue. These results demonstrate the feasibility of using lipid biomarkers to diagnose brain injury. Future studies will be needed to further characterize the diagnostic utility of this approach and to transition to an assay method applicable to clinical settings.
Sheth, S. A., Iavarone, A. T., Liebeskind, D. S., Won, S. J., & Swanson, R. A. (2015). Targeted lipid profiling discovers plasma biomarkers of acute brain injury. PLoS ONE, 10(6). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0129735