How can scientists optimize brain scans that detect tau in Alzheimer’s research?
Antoine Leuzy, Ph.D.
Alzheimer’s is characterized in part by the accumulation of protein fragment beta-amyloid and an abnormal form of the tau protein. These molecules tend to form clumps called amyloid plaques and tau tangles, respectively. Tau and amyloid clumps appear to form distinctive patterns in the brains of individuals with Alzheimer’s — patterns that differ from those seen in other forms of dementia. One technique for identifying such patterns in living people is via a brain scan called positron emission tomography (or PET). This imaging technique uses special “tracers” that highlight the amount and location of plaques and tangles in the brain.
Scientists often rely on PET scans that assess tau clumps in living individuals (a procedure known as tau-PET) in Alzheimer’s research and drug development. However, there are still questions about how best to use tau-PET in clinical trials.
Using tau-PET, Dr. Leuzy and colleagues will first study how the patterns of tau clumps in the brain vary in different individuals. Recent research suggests that there may be individual differences in the development and movement of tau over time.
Next, the researchers will investigate which biological markers (biomarkers) of Alzheimer’s best predict the build-up of tau over time at different stages of Alzheimer’s. They will study biomarkers including levels of tau and beta-amyloid from samples of blood and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF: a biological fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord), measures of neurodegeneration, and measures from tau-PET scans.
The results may help scientists more accurately use tau-PET scans in Alzheimer’s research and clinical trials.
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