Saliva RNA biomarkers predict concussion duration and detect symptom recovery: a comparison with balance and cognitive testing

Gregory Fedorchak, Aakanksha Rangnekar, Cayce Onks, Andrea C. Loeffert, Jayson Loeffert, Robert P. Olympia, Samantha DeVita, John Leddy, Mohammad N. Haider, Aaron Roberts, Jessica Rieger, Thomas Uhlig, Chuck Monteith, Frank Middleton, Scott L. Zuckerman, Timothy Lee, Keith Owen Yeates, Rebekah Mannix, Steven Hicks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Objective: The goals of this study were to assess the ability of salivary non-coding RNA (ncRNA) levels to predict post-concussion symptoms lasting ≥ 21 days, and to examine the ability of ncRNAs to identify recovery compared to cognition and balance. Methods: RNA sequencing was performed on 505 saliva samples obtained longitudinally from 112 individuals (8–24-years-old) with mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). Initial samples were obtained ≤ 14 days post-injury, and follow-up samples were obtained ≥ 21 days post-injury. Computerized balance and cognitive test performance were assessed at initial and follow-up time-points. Machine learning was used to define: (1) a model employing initial ncRNA levels to predict persistent post-concussion symptoms (PPCS) ≥ 21 days post-injury; and (2) a model employing follow-up ncRNA levels to identify symptom recovery. Performance of the models was compared against a validated clinical prediction rule, and balance/cognitive test performance, respectively. Results: An algorithm using age and 16 ncRNAs predicted PPCS with greater accuracy than the validated clinical tool and demonstrated additive combined utility (area under the curve (AUC) 0.86; 95% CI 0.84–0.88). Initial balance and cognitive test performance did not differ between PPCS and non-PPCS groups (p > 0.05). Follow-up balance and cognitive test performance identified symptom recovery with similar accuracy to a model using 11 ncRNAs and age. A combined model (ncRNAs, balance, cognition) most accurately identified recovery (AUC 0.86; 95% CI 0.83–0.89). Conclusions: ncRNA biomarkers show promise for tracking recovery from mTBI, and for predicting who will have prolonged symptoms. They could provide accurate expectations for recovery, stratify need for intervention, and guide safe return-to-activities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4349-4361
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neurology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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