BackgroundIt has traditionally been thought that the pathological accumulation of tau in Alzheimer's disease and other tauopathies facilitates neurodegeneration, which in turn leads to cognitive impairment. However, recent evidence suggests that tau tangles are not the entity responsible for memory loss, rather it is an intermediate tau species that disrupts neuronal function. Thus, efforts to discover therapeutics for tauopathies emphasize soluble tau reductions as well as neuroprotection.
ResultsHere, we found that neuroprotection alone caused by methylene blue (MB), the parent compound of the anti-tau phenothiaziazine drug, Rember™, was insufficient to rescue cognition in a mouse model of the human tauopathy, progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) and fronto-temporal dementia with parkinsonism linked to chromosome 17 (FTDP17): Only when levels of soluble tau protein were concomitantly reduced by a very high concentration of MB, was cognitive improvement observed. Thus, neurodegeneration can be decoupled from tau accumulation, but phenotypic improvement is only possible when soluble tau levels are also reduced.
ConclusionsNeuroprotection alone is not sufficient to rescue tau-induced memory loss in a transgenic mouse model. Development of neuroprotective agents is an area of intense investigation in the tauopathy drug discovery field. This may ultimately be an unsuccessful approach if soluble toxic tau intermediates are not also reduced. Thus, MB and related compounds, despite their pleiotropic nature, may be the proverbial "magic bullet" because they not only are neuroprotective, but are also able to facilitate soluble tau clearance. Moreover, this shows that neuroprotection is possible without reducing tau levels. This indicates that there is a definitive molecular link between tau and cell death cascades that can be disrupted.