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2020 Alzheimer's Association Research Fellowship (AARF)

Tau pathology and propagation in a monkey model of Alzheimer's disease

Can a novel model help to better understand brain changes observed in Alzheimer’s?

Danielle Beckman, Ph.D.
University of California
Davis, CA - United States


Alzheimer’s is characterized, in part, by the accumulation of the protein fragment beta-amyloid and an abnormal form of the tau protein. These molecules tend to form harmful clumps called amyloid plaques and tau tangles respectively. Though studies indicate that plaques and tangles may hinder brain cell function and could contribute to cell death, the mechanisms underlying these brain changes remain unclear. Dr. Danielle Beckman believes that this could because the mouse models typically used to generate and study plaques and tangles in the laboratory may not necessarily simulate human nerve cell abnormalities in the living brain accurately. Therefore, Dr. Beckman and colleagues will use non-human primates as models to study brain changes observed in Alzheimer’s.

Research Plan

In preliminary studies, Dr. Danielle Beckman and colleagues have been developing Alzheimer’s-like Rhesus macaque monkeys to study tau-related brain changes. The investigators will use novel techniques to evaluate abnormal tau in their brains. Abnormal tau accumulates into tau tangles, one of the hallmark brain changes seen in Alzheimer’s, frontotemporal dementia, Pick’s disease and over 20 other brain diseases. Dr. Beckman and colleagues will then study the impact of abnormal tau for three to six months. They will take samples of blood and cerebrospinal fluid (or CSF, the biological fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord) to measure abnormal tau levels and other biomarkers linked to Alzheimer’s. The researchers will also perform PET (Positron Emission Tomography) brain scans to determine if there is an impact on nerve cell as well as how abnormal tau has been transported across brain regions.


If successful, the study results may identify an animal model that may closely mimic the development and progression of Alzheimer’s in humans. The results could provide a model system for future interventions and strategies to tackle brain diseases.

This project was made possible by the Dale Schenk Alzheimer's Association Research Roundtable Award.

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