Global neuropathologic severity of Alzheimer's disease and locus coeruleus vulnerability influences plasma phosphorylated tau levels


Background Advances in ultrasensitive detection of phosphorylated tau (p-tau) in plasma has enabled the use of blood tests to measure Alzheimer’s disease (AD) biomarker changes. Examination of postmortem brains of participants with antemortem plasma p-tau levels remains critical to understanding comorbid and AD-specific contribution to these biomarker changes.

Methods We analyzed 35 population-based Mayo Clinic Study of Aging participants with plasma p-tau at threonine 181 and threonine 217 (p-tau181, p-tau217) available within 3 years of death. Autopsied participants included cognitively unimpaired, mild cognitive impairment, AD dementia, and non-AD neurodegenerative disorders. Global neuropathologic scales of tau, amyloid-β, TDP-43, and cerebrovascular disease were examined. Regional digital pathology measures of tau (phosphorylated threonine 181 and 217 [pT181, pT217]) and amyloid-β (6F/3D) were quantified in hippocampus and parietal cortex. Neurotransmitter hubs reported to influence development of tangles (nucleus basalis of Meynert) and amyloid-β plaques (locus coeruleus) were evaluated.

Results The strongest regional associations were with parietal cortex for tau burden (p-tau181 R = 0.55, p = 0.003; p-tau217 R = 0.66, p < 0.001) and amyloid-β burden (p-tau181 R = 0.59, p < 0.001; p-tau217 R = 0.71, p < 0.001). Linear regression analysis of global neuropathologic scales explained 31% of variability in plasma p-tau181 (Adj. R2 = 0.31) and 59% in plasma p-tau217 (Adj. R2 = 0.59). Neither TDP-43 nor cerebrovascular disease global scales independently contributed to variability. Global scales of tau pathology (β-coefficient = 0.060, p = 0.016) and amyloid-β pathology (β-coefficient = 0.080, p < 0.001) independently predicted plasma p-tau217 when modeled together with co-pathologies, but only amyloid-β (β-coefficient = 0.33, p = 0.021) significantly predicted plasma p-tau181. While nucleus basalis of Meynert neuron count/mm2 was not associated with plasma p-tau levels, a lower locus coeruleus neuron count/mm2 was associated with higher plasma p-tau181 (R = -0.50, p = 0.007) and higher plasma p-tau217 (R = -0.55, p = 0.002). Cognitive scores (Adj. R2 = 0.25–0.32) were predicted by the global tau scale, but not by the global amyloid-β scale or plasma p-tau when modeled simultaneously.

Conclusions Higher soluble plasma p-tau levels may be the result of an intersection between insoluble deposits of amyloid-β and tau accumulation in brain, and may be associated with locus coeruleus degeneration.

Cite As
Murray, M. E., Moloney, C. M., Kouri, N., Syrjanen, J. A., Matchett, B. J., Rothberg, D. M., Tranovich, J. F., Sirmans, T. N. H., Wiste, H. J., Boon, B. D. C., Nguyen, A. T., Reichard, R. R., Dickson, D. W., Lowe, V. J., Dage, J. L., Petersen, R. C., Jack, C. R., Knopman, D. S., Vemuri, P., … Mielke, M. M. (2022). Global neuropathologic severity of Alzheimer’s disease and locus coeruleus vulnerability influences plasma phosphorylated tau levels. Molecular Neurodegeneration, 17, 85.
Molecular Neurodegeneration
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