Authors: Schiff L, Hadker N, Weiser S, Rausch C.
Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are potentially lethal medical conditions, with symptoms that can overlap with symptoms of injuries outside the brain. In many cases, current diagnostic methods do not fully distinguish acute brain injury from other organ damage. In the management of stroke patients, the choice of treatment depends on whether the stroke is ischemic or hemorrhagic; however, no quick lab diagnostic tests are available to distinguish between the two types of strokes. As a result, patient triage, disposition, and patient management decisions may be delayed for patients with suspected TBI and stroke. Glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), a brain-specific biomarker that is released into the blood following TBI and stroke, is being explored for potential diagnostic and prognostic value in these indications. We therefore conducted a review of MEDLINE-indexed publications from 2004 to 2011 to evaluate the current status of GFAP as a prognostic and diagnostic tool for TBI and stroke within the context of current published guidelines. Our review suggests that GFAP could provide clinically valuable information for the prognosis of TBI and stroke, but it is still at an early stage of development as a biomarker. Several TBI studies have shown elevated GFAP levels following a TBI event to be associated with greater severity of injury, poorer outcomes, and increased mortality. Clinical studies also indicate that GFAP has potential clinical utility in the differential diagnosis of various types of stroke. However, more clinical research will be required to determine the ability of GFAP levels to diagnose TBI in heterogeneous patient populations, as well as the ability of GFAP to differentiate between ischemic stroke (IS), intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH), subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), and non-stroke conditions in populations of patients with suspected rather than confirmed stroke. Additional clinical studies will also be required to define the temporal patterns of GFAP release in IS, ICH, SAH, and TBI, and their potential use in the differential diagnosis of these conditions. Finally, such research could demonstrate the ability of GFAP test results to provide unique clinical information that informs management decisions for TBI and stroke patients.