Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) neurofilament light (NFL) is a protein biomarker of axonal injury. To study whether NFL is associated with diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) measurements of white matter (WM) microstructure, Vanderbilt Memory & Aging Project participants with normal cognition (n = 77), early mild cognitive impairment (n = 15), and MCI (n = 55) underwent lumbar puncture to obtain CSF and 3T brain MRI. Voxel-wise analyses cross-sectionally related NFL to DTI metrics, adjusting for demographic and vascular risk factors. Increased NFL correlated with multiple DTI metrics (p-values < 0.05). An NFL × diagnosis interaction (excluding early mild cognitive impairment) on WM microstructure (p-values < 0.05) was detected, with associations strongest among MCI. Multiple NFL × CSF biomarker interactions were detected. Associations between NFL and worse WM metrics were strongest among amyloid-β-negative, tau-positive, and suspected nonamyloid pathology participants. Findings suggest increased NFL, a biomarker of axonal injury, is correlated with compromised WM microstructure. Results highlight the role of elevated NFL in predicting WM damage in cognitively impaired older adults who are amyloid-negative, tau-positive, or meet suspected nonamyloid pathology criteria.
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