From the WashU Newsroom…
Damaging tangles of the protein tau dot the brains of people with Alzheimer’s and many other neurodegenerative diseases, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which plagues professional boxers and football players. Such tau-based diseases can lead to memory loss, confusion and, in some, aggressive behavior. But there is no easy way to determine whether people’s symptoms are linked to tau tangles in their brains.
Now, however, a team led by scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has found a way to measure tau levels in the blood. The method accurately reflects levels of tau in the brain that are of interest to scientists because they correlate with neurological damage. The study, in mice and a small group of people, could be the first step toward a noninvasive test for tau.
While further evaluation in people is necessary, such a test potentially could be used to quickly screen for tau-based diseases, monitor disease progression and measure the effectiveness of treatments designed to target tau.
The research is published April 19 in Science Translational Medicine.
“We showed that you can measure tau in the blood, and it provides insight into the status of tau in the fluid surrounding cells in the brain,” said senior author David Holtzman, MD, the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and head of the Department of Neurology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
Tau is a normal brain protein involved in maintaining the structure of neurons. But when tau forms tangles, it damages and kills nearby neurons.
“People with tau diseases have a wide range of symptoms because basically, wherever tau is aggregating, those parts of the brain are degenerating,” Holtzman said. “So if it’s in a memory area, you get memory problems. If it’s in a motor area, you get problems with movement.”
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