Neurofibrillary tangles form in a specific spatial and temporal pattern in Alzheimer's disease. Although tangle formation correlates with dementia and neuronal loss, it remains unknown whether neurofibrillary pathology causes cell death. Recently, a mouse model of tauopathy was developed that reversibly expresses human tau with the dementia-associated P301L mutation. This model (rTg4510) exhibits progressive behavioral deficits that are ameliorated with transgene suppression. Using quantitative analysis of PHF1 immunostaining and neuronal counts, we estimated neuron number and accumulation of neurofibrillary pathology in five brain regions. Accumulation of PHF1-positive tau in neurons appeared between 2.5 and 7 months of age in a region-specific manner and increased with age. Neuron loss was dramatic and region-specific in these mice, reaching over 80% loss in hippocampal area CA1 and dentate gyms by 8.5 months. We observed regional dissociation of neuronal loss and accumulation of neurofibrillary pathology, because there was loss of neurons before neurofibrillary lesions appeared in the dentate gyms and, conversely, neurofibrillary pathology appeared without major cell loss in the striatum. Finally, suppressing the transgene prevented further neuronal loss without removing or preventing additional accumulation of neurofibrillary pathology. Together, these results imply that neurofiforillary tangles do not necessarily lead to neuronal death.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Supported by National Institutes of Health grants AG26249, AG08487, and AG00277 and by an Alzheimer Association Pioneer Award.