Brain diseases associated with the misformed protein tau, including Alzheimer's disease and frontotemporal lobar degeneration with tau pathologies, are characterized by neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs) comprised of pathological tau filaments. Tau tangles are also found in progressive supranuclear palsy, cortical basal degeneration and other related tauopathies, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy due to repetitive traumatic brain injuries sustained in sports or on the battle field.
By using synthetic fibrils made from pure recombinant protein, Penn researchers provide the first direct and compelling evidence that tau fibrils alone are entirely sufficient to recruit and convert soluble tau within cells into pathological clumps in neurons, followed by transmission of tau pathology to other inter-connected brain regions from a single injection site in an animal model of tau brain disease.
The laboratory of senior author Virginia M.-Y. Lee, Ph.D., MBA, director of the Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research and professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, published their findings in the Journal of Neuroscience this week.
"Our new model of tau pathology spread provides an explanation to account for the stereotypical progression of Alzheimer's and other related tauopathies by implicating the cell-to-cell transmission of pathological tau in this process," says Lee.
Young mice overexpressing mutant human tau were injected with synthetic preformed tau fibrils. These fibrils were assembled from recombinant full-length tau or truncated tau containing four microtubule-binding repeats. The synthetic tau fibrils caused rapid induction of NFT-like inclusions in the brains of the mice. These inclusions then propagated from injected sites to connected brain regions in a dose- and time-dependent manner.