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Neurosci Lett. 2007 May 23;419(1):78-82. Epub 2007 Mar 30.

Nerve growth factor in serum is a marker of the stage of alcohol disease.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Charité-University Medicine Berlin, Campus Benjamin Franklin, Eschenallee 3, 14050 Berlin, Germany. maria.jockers@charite.de


Long-term alcohol abuse has deleterious effects on the peripheral and central nervous system. Nerve growth factor (NGF) is a pleiotropic neurotrophic protein involved in development, maintenance of function and regeneration of nerve cells. We examined patients in different stages of alcohol disease and measured their NGF serum concentrations based on the hypothesis that these reflect the state of disease. We examined 57 patients suffering from alcohol-dependence for more than 2 years (DSM IV) on day 8 of a qualified withdrawal, 18 patients with Korsakoff's syndrome and 40 healthy controls. In addition to clinical examination, careful history taking and a standard neuropsychological test battery, serum NGF concentrations were measured by a highly sensitive enzyme-immunoassay. Of the 57 patients 9 had suffered from severe withdrawal delirium in the past, other clinical parameters were alike. Cognitive test performance did not differ from the control group. Mean NGF levels of controls amounted to 42.1pg/ml (S.D. 68.0); mean levels of patients with alcohol dependence were raised significantly to 401.5pg/ml (S.D. 932.6) without delirium in the past and even further to 3292.5pg/ml (S.D. 4879.6) with former withdrawal delirium. By contrast, patients with persistent amnestic disorder (Korsakoff's syndrome) showed values identical to the controls. NGF serum levels were significantly elevated in alcohol-dependent patients, more so in those with prior delirium. Their cognitive tests being normal, this possibly reflects the activity of NGF as an endogenous repair mechanism for damaged neurons. In accordance with this hypothesis, NGF values are "normal" in patients with persistent alcohol-related cognitive decline.

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