Unlike genetic mutations previously linked to rare, inherited forms of early-onset Alzheimer's disease — which can strike people as young as their 30s or 40s — these variants influence an earlier presentation of symptoms in people affected by the more common, late-onset form of the disease.
Two principal features characterize Alzheimer's disease in the brain: amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. The plaques contain a protein called amyloid-beta. The tangles are made of a protein called tau.
The research team analyzed DNA from 313 subjects from Washington University's Alzheimer's Disease Research Center (ADRC), focusing on locations in the tau gene that previously have been found to vary between people.
"We focused on this gene for two reasons: First, it codes for the tau protein that we find in neurofibrillary tangles, and secondly, some studies in the scientific literature show an association between the gene and Alzheimer's disease, while others do not," says principal investigator Alison M. Goate, D. Phil., the Samuel and Mae S. Ludwig Professor of Genetics in Psychiatry and professor of neurology. "Even a study from our own group had found no association between tau gene variants and Alzheimer's disease."
But this study, reported in the June 10 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, changes that. One reason past studies may have produced conflicting results is that most, if not all, people have amyloid plaques in the brain years before they develop clinical symptoms of Alzheimer's.
"It's not uncommon for us to determine that an older person is fully intact mentally only to find the presence of substantial Alzheimer's pathology on examining that person's brain after death," says John C. Morris, M.D., the Harvey A. and Dorismae Friedman Distinguished Professor of Neurology and director of the ADRC and of the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging. "We suspect that Alzheimer lesions may be present in the brain long before we can detect any clinical symptoms."
Previous research from Goate's colleagues David M. Holtzman, M.D., the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and head of the Department of Neurology, and Anne M. Fagan, Ph.D., associate professor of neurology, measured soluble forms of amyloid-beta and tau proteins in the cerebrospinal fluid. They determined that amyloid-beta levels indicate whether or not amyloid plaques are present in the brain.
"A particular form of amyloid-beta called amyloid-beta 42, tends to be higher in the cerebrospinal fluid of normal individuals and lower in patients with Alzheimer's disease and in cognitively normal people who have amyloid plaques in the brain," says Holtzman. "Tau protein levels in the cerebrospinal fluid increase when a person starts developing dementia."
Finding those amyloid deposits once required examination of the brain after a person's death, but researchers now can detect their presence by assessing them with positron emission tomography (PET) imaging as well as measuring amyloid beta 42. When PET imaging detects amyloid in the brain, patients have lower levels of amyloid-beta 42 in their cerebrospinal fluid.
Goate's team found that four DNA sequence variants in the tau gene were associated with higher levels of tau protein in the cerebrospinal fluid. Then they divided patients into two groups. One group had evidence of plaques in the brain, while the other did not. The investigators found that the variations in the gene are only associated with an increase in tau protein levels in the cerebrospinal fluid when there is evidence of amyloid plaques in the brain.
Armed with those findings, Goate's team predicted that the variants in the tau gene that contributed to higher levels of tau protein in the cerebrospinal fluid would be associated with a younger age at the onset of Alzheimer's disease symptoms.
"So we went back to the ADRC's clinical samples, and that's exactly what we found," she says. "Individuals who carry these genetic variations that lead to higher levels of tau in cerebrospinal fluid actually have an earlier age of onset than those who carry variants that are associated with lower levels of tau."
Goate says these sequence variants in the tau gene are not linked to risk of Alzheimer's disease but rather to earlier cognitive problems once plaques have started to form in the brain. She says people who possess those genetic variants, if they are fated to develop Alzheimer's disease, will experience symptoms sooner.
"Advanced techniques in identifying markers for amyloid and tau deposition in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease, in combination with genetic analysis, are giving us new clues about how the disease begins," says Marcelle Morrison-Bogorad, Ph.D., director of the Division of Neuroscience at the National Institute on Aging. "This study offers important information about the levels of expression of particular forms of the tau gene in the presence of brain amyloid and therefore may help us understand why the disease begins earlier in some persons than in others."
Goate says these findings lend further support to the hypothesis that amyloid-beta plaques form earlier in the cascade of Alzheimer's pathology, and that the tau protein is involved in how the disease progresses. She says more work is needed at the cellular level to figure out how the proteins interact to cause Alzheimer's symptoms, but in the meantime, she says identifying these variants in the tau gene may provide clinicians with a new target for potential therapies.
"Even when there already is evidence of amyloid deposition in the brain, if we could find a way to lower tau levels, we would predict that the onset of symptoms may be delayed," she says. "But we need to do a lot more cell biology and research in animal models before we can hope to do that."
Jim Dryden | EurekAlert!
Cancer diagnosis: no more needles?
25.05.2018 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Less is more? Gene switch for healthy aging found
25.05.2018 | Leibniz-Institut für Alternsforschung - Fritz-Lipmann-Institut e.V. (FLI)
The more electronics steer, accelerate and brake cars, the more important it is to protect them against cyber-attacks. That is why 15 partners from industry and academia will work together over the next three years on new approaches to IT security in self-driving cars. The joint project goes by the name Security For Connected, Autonomous Cars (SecForCARs) and has funding of €7.2 million from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Infineon is leading the project.
Vehicles already offer diverse communication interfaces and more and more automated functions, such as distance and lane-keeping assist systems. At the same...
A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.
The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...
At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.
At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...
There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?
At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
25.05.2018 | Event News
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
25.05.2018 | Event News
25.05.2018 | Machine Engineering
25.05.2018 | Life Sciences