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J Neuropathol Exp Neurol. 2011 Jul;70(7):588-95. doi: 10.1097/NEN.0b013e318220a658.

Soluble tau species, not neurofibrillary aggregates, disrupt neural system integration in a tau transgenic model.

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Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, MassGeneral Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease, Charlestown, 02129, USA.


Neurofibrillary tangles are a feature of Alzheimer disease and other tauopathies, and although they are generally believed to be markers of neuronal pathology, there is little evidence evaluating whether tangles directly impact neuronal function. To investigate the response of cells in hippocampal circuits to complex behavioral stimuli, we used an environmental enrichment paradigm to induce expression of an immediate-early gene, Arc, in the rTg4510 mouse model of tauopathy. These mice reversibly overexpress P301L tau and exhibit substantial neurofibrillary tangle deposition, neuronal loss, and memory deficits. Using fluorescent in situ hybridization to detect Arc messenger RNA, we found that rTg4510 mice have impaired hippocampal Arc expression both without stimulation and in response to environmental enrichment; this likely reflects the combination of functional impairments of existing neurons and loss of neurons. However, tangle-bearing cells were at least as likely as non-tangle-bearing neurons to exhibit Arc expression in response to enrichment. Transgene suppression with doxycycline for 6 weeks resulted in increased percentages of Arc-positive cells in rTg4510 brains compared with untreated transgenics, restoring enrichment-induced Arc messenger RNA levels to that of wild-type controls despite the continued presence of neurofibrillary pathology. We interpret these data to indicate that soluble tau contributes to impairment of hippocampal function, although tangles do not preclude neurons from responding in a functional circuit.

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