Elevated cerebrospinal fluid tau protein concentrations on admission are associated with long-term neurologic and cognitive impairment in Ugandan children with cerebral malaria.

02 May 2019
Datta D, Conroy AL, Castelluccio PF, Ssenkusu JM, Park GS, Opoka RO, Bangirana P, Idro R, Saykin AJ, John CC


Elevated concentrations of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) tau, a marker of axonal injury, have been associated with coma in severe malaria (cerebral malaria). However, it is unknown whether axonal injury is related to long-term neurologic deficits and cognitive impairment in children with cerebral malaria (CM).


Admission CSF tau concentrations were measured in 145 Ugandan children with CM and compared to clinical and laboratory factors, and acute and chronic neurologic and cognitive outcomes.


Elevated CSF tau concentrations were associated with younger age, increased disease severity (lower glucose and hemoglobin concentrations, malaria retinopathy, acute kidney injury and prolonged coma duration, all P<0.05), and an increased CSF:plasma albumin ratio, a marker of blood-brain barrier breakdown (P<0.001). Admission CSF tau concentrations were associated with the presence of neurologic deficits at hospital discharge, and at 6-, 12-, and 24-months post-discharge (all P0.02). After adjustment for potential confounding factors, elevated log10-transformed CSF tau concentrations correlated with worse cognitive outcome z-scores over 2-year follow-up for associative memory (coefficient, [95 % CI]) (-0.31 [- 0.53, -0.10]) in children <5 years, and for overall cognition (-0.69 [-1.19, -0.21]), attention (-0.78 [-1.34, -0.23]), and working memory (-1.0 [-1.68, -0.31]) in children ≥5 years (all P<0.006).


Acute axonal injury in children with CM is associated with long-term neurologic deficits and cognitive impairment. CSF tau concentrations at the time of the CM episode may identify children at high risk of long-term neurocognitive impairment.