Neuroinflammation and Its Association with Cognition, Neuronal Markers and Peripheral Inflammation after Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer

Gwen Schroyen, Jeroen Blommaert, Donatienne van Weehaeghe, Charlotte Sleurs, Mathieu Vandenbulcke, Nina Dedoncker, Sigrid Hatse, An Goris, Michel Koole, Ann Smeets, Koen van Laere, Stefan Sunaert, Sabine Deprez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


To uncover mechanisms underlying chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment in breast cancer, we studied new biomarkers of neuroinflammation and neuronal survival. This cohort study included 74 women (47 ± 10 years) from 22 October 2017 until 20 August 2020. Nineteen chemotherapy-treated and 18 chemotherapy-naïve patients with breast cancer were assessed one month after the completion of surgery and/or chemotherapy, and 37 healthy controls were included. Assessments included neuropsychological testing, questionnaires, blood sampling for 17 inflammatory and two neuronal survival markers (neurofilament light-chain (NfL), and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and PET-MR neuroimaging. To investigate neuroinflammation, translocator protein (TSPO) [18F]DPA714-PET-MR was acquired for 15 participants per group, and evaluated by volume of distribution normalized to the cerebellum. Chemotherapy-treated patients showed higher TSPO expression, indicative for neuroinflammation, in the occipital and parietal lobe when compared to healthy controls or chemotherapy-naïve patients. After partial-volume correction, differences with healthy controls persisted (pFWE < 0.05). Additionally, compared to healthy- or chemotherapy-naïve controls, cognitive impairment (17-22%) and altered levels in blood markers (F ≥ 3.7, p&nbsp;≤ 0.031) were found in chemotherapy-treated patients. NfL, an axonal damage marker, was particularly sensitive in differentiating groups (F = 105, p = 4.2 × 10 -21), with levels 20-fold higher in chemotherapy-treated patients. Lastly, in chemotherapy-treated patients alone, higher local TSPO expression was associated with worse cognitive performance, higher blood levels of BDNF/NfL, and decreased fiber cross-section in the corpus callosum (pFWE < 0.05). These findings suggest that increased neuroinflammation is associated with chemotherapy-related cognitive impairment in breast cancer. Additionally, NfL could be a useful biomarker to assess neurotoxic effects of anticancer chemotherapies.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


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