Tracking tau may help fight Alzheimer's

Rapid spread does not mean immediate impact, research suggests.

A functioning brain cell that is expressing diseased tau.

Hallinan et al, JNeurosci 2019

The accumulation of tau proteins in the brain is linked to neurological disorders. It is known to spread quickly between neurons, but new research in mice suggests that this is not immediately harmful and that intervening during the initial accumulation could potentially halt the progression of diseases such as Alzheimer's.

Writing in the journal JNeurosci, Grace Hallinan from the UK’s University of Southampton and colleagues describe introducing diseased tau into mouse neurons growing in a cell culture.

Within days, the activated tau had spread to other neurons and begun misfolding and accumulating. However, both the donating and accepting neurons remained healthy and capable of sending electrical messages.

These results, the researchers say, show that tau build-up itself is not harmful; rather, it is the cellular processes it disrupts that kill neurons.

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