May 16, 2016

Alzheimer's Linked to Tau Protein in the Brain

This research indicates that Tau is a better marker of progression to Alzheimer’s disease than amyloid beta.

Comparing brain images of people with Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers found that measures of tau better predict symptoms of dementia than measures of amyloid beta.
A study using a new PET imaging agent shows that measures of tau protein in the brain more closely track cognitive decline due to Alzheimer's disease compared with long-studied measures of amyloid beta.

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A buildup of plaque and dysfunctional proteins in the brain are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

While much Alzheimer’s research has focused on accumulation of the protein amyloid beta, researchers are starting to pay closer attention tau.
  • Comparing brain images of people who are cognitively normal to patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers found that measures of tau better predict symptoms of dementia than measures of amyloid beta.
  • To determine the degree of cognitive impairment, some of the participants who underwent brain imaging,  were assessed with the traditional clinical dementia rating (CDR) scale, cerebrospinal fluid measures, and widely used pen and paper tests of memory and other brain functions.

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“Our work and that of others has shown that elevated levels of amyloid beta are the earliest markers of developing Alzheimer’s disease. But in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease, even with amyloid buildup, many patients are cognitively normal, meaning their memory and thought processes are still intact. What we suspect is that amyloid changes first and then tau, and it’s the combination of both that tips the patient from being asymptomatic to showing mild cognitive impairment.”

"While we currently cannot prevent or cure Alzheimer’s disease, delaying the onset of symptoms by 10-15 years would make a huge difference to our patients, to their families and caregivers, and to the global economy.”

- Beau M. Ances, MD, PhD, Washington University School of Medicine


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The study was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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Source: Brain imaging links Alzheimer’s decline to tau protein

Source: Brier M, Gordon B, Friedrichsen K, McCarthy J, Stern A, Christensen J, et al. Tau and Ab Imaging CsF Measures, and Cognition in Alzheimer’s Disease. Science Translational Medicine. 2016.