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2016 Grants - Dugger
The Presence of Tau in Peripheral Tissues across Alzheimer’s Disease Stages
Brittany Nicole Dugger, Ph.D.
University of California, San Francisco
San Francisco, California
2016 Alzheimer’s Association Research Grant (AARG)
Is abnormal tau protein present in body tissues other than the brain during Alzheimer’s disease?
One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease is the accumulation of a protein called tau into clumps or “tangles” in the brain. Tau tangles are thought to interfere with nerve cell function and may ultimately contribute to cognitive decline and memory problems. The formation of these tangles in the brain increases as Alzheimer’s disease progresses. Very few studies have investigated changes in tau protein levels in tissues other than the brain. More research into how abnormal tau may affect other parts of the body could help scientists understand the molecular mechanisms of disease progression and potentially identify new biomarkers to detect Alzheimer’s disease.
In initial studies, Brittany Dugger, Ph.D., and colleagues found that tau is present in several peripheral tissues including skin, liver, colon and salivary glands of people who had Alzheimer’s disease. The salivary gland, which shares nerve cell pathways with the brain stem and spinal cord, showed the highest detectable levels of tau. For their current work, Dr. Dugger’s team will compare the levels of several abnormal forms of tau and related brain proteins in the salivary glands of individuals at various stages of Alzheimer’s disease. They will also measure changes in nerve cell pathways that connect the brain and salivary glands to determine how this may impact the movement of tau from the brain to peripheral tissues.
This research could shed new light into how Alzheimer’s disease affects other areas of the body outside of the brain. These findings may also lead to new tests that measure tau levels in peripheral tissues to help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, monitor disease progression over time, or evaluate the effectiveness of treatments. Because several potential drug therapies for Alzheimer’s target abnormal tau, this research may help predict whether these treatments could affect tissues other than the brain.