ISSN 2398-2950      

Cerebrospinal fluid: protein


Laurent Garosi

Synonym(s): CSF


  • Total protein and protein fractions vary with type of central nervous sytem (CNS) pathology and etiology.
  • The concentration of protein in CSF is very low and is comprised almost entirely of albumin.
  • It is normally higher in the lumbar sample than the cerbellomedullary cistern one.
  • Increased protein in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is a sensitive indicator of CNS disease, but it is the least specific change observed on CSF analysis.
  • It may be due to altered permeability of the blood-brain barrier (mainly albumin) and/or intrathecal immunoglobulin production.


This article is available in full to registered subscribers

Sign up now to obtain ten tokens to view any ten Vetlexicon articles, images, sounds or videos, or Login



  • Because of its low concentration, specialized techniques and reagents are needed for quantitative analysis.
  • Precipitation and dye-binding methods.
  • Urinary protein reagent strips for detection of grossly elevated total protein.
  • Protein electrophoresis Serum protein electrophoresis  →   relative proportions, eg albumin versus globulin, helps identify source of protein: via increased permeability of blood-brain barrier or from local source (production by meninges).
  • The protein concentration in CSF is too low to be quatified using refractometry Refractometer.
  • In-house semi-quantitative approximation of the protein content can be performed using a standard urine dipstick bearing in mind that dipsticks are more efficient at detecting albumin and may give a false-negataive result in case of increased globulins. Protein can reliably be considered elevated based on a dipstick reading of 2+ or greater Urinalysis: protein.
  • Protein in CSF can be further analysed for the albumin quotient which detects disruptions in the blood-brain barrier, and for increased globulins, which indicates intrathecal production.


  • Widely available at commecial laboratories.
  • Urine dipstick semi-quantitative analysis can be done in practice.

Result Data

This article is available in full to registered subscribers

Sign up now to obtain ten tokens to view any ten Vetlexicon articles, images, sounds or videos, or Login

Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from VetMedResource and PubMed.
  • Rand J S, Parent J, Percy D & Jacobs R (1994) Clinical, cerebrospinal fluid, and histological data from twenty-seven cats with primary inflammatory disease of the central nervous system. Can Vet J 35, 103-110 PubMed.
  • Chrisman C L (1992) Cerebrospinal fluid analysis. Vet Clin North Am 22, 781-809.
  • Jacobs R M, Cochrane S M, Lumsden J H & Norris A M (1990) Relationship of cerebrospinal fluid protein concentration determined by dye-binding and urinary dipstick methodologies. Can Vet J 31, 587-588.
  • Rand J S, Parent J, Jacobs R & Johnson R (1990) Reference intervals for feline cerebrospinal fluid: biochemical and serologic variables, IgG concentration, and electrophoretic fractionation. Am J Vet Res 51, 1049-1054.

Other sources of information

  • Wamsley H & Alleman A R (2004) Clinical pathology. In: BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Neurology. Platt S R & Olby N J (eds). British Small Animal Veterinary Association, UK. pp 42-53.


Can’t find what you’re looking for?

We have an ever growing content library on Vetlexicon so if you ever find we haven't covered something that you need please fill in the form below and let us know!


To show you are not a Bot please can you enter the number showing adjacent to this field

 Security code