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Front Cell Neurosci. 2014 Dec 17;8:429. doi: 10.3389/fncel.2014.00429. eCollection 2014.

Diffuse axonal injury in brain trauma: insights from alterations in neurofilaments.

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Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre, Medical Sciences Precinct Hobart, TAS, Australia ; School of Medicine, University of Tasmania Hobart, TAS, Australia.


Traumatic brain injury (TBI) from penetrating or closed forces to the cranium can result in a range of forms of neural damage, which culminate in mortality or impart mild to significant neurological disability. In this regard, diffuse axonal injury (DAI) is a major neuronal pathophenotype of TBI and is associated with a complex set of cytoskeletal changes. The neurofilament triplet proteins are key structural cytoskeletal elements, which may also be important contributors to the tensile strength of axons. This has significant implications with respect to how axons may respond to TBI. It is not known, however, whether neurofilament compaction and the cytoskeletal changes that evolve following axonal injury represent a component of a protective mechanism following damage, or whether they serve to augment degeneration and progression to secondary axotomy. Here we review the structure and role of neurofilament proteins in normal neuronal function. We also discuss the processes that characterize DAI and the resultant alterations in neurofilaments, highlighting potential clues to a possible protective or degenerative influence of specific neurofilament alterations within injured neurons. The potential utility of neurofilament assays as biomarkers for axonal injury is also discussed. Insights into the complex alterations in neurofilaments will contribute to future efforts in developing therapeutic strategies to prevent, ameliorate or reverse neuronal degeneration in the central nervous system (CNS) following traumatic injury.


NFL; biomarkers; diffuse axonal injury; diffuse brain trauma; neurofilament; neurofilament compaction; traumatic axonal injury; traumatic brain injury

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