Karen H Ashe

University of Minnesota Duluth, Duluth, Minnesota, United States

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Publications (70)469.87 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: Alzheimer's disease begins about two decades before the onset of symptoms or neuron death, and is believed to be caused by pathogenic amyloid-β aggregates that initiate a cascade of molecular events culminating in widespread neurodegeneration. The microtubule binding protein tau may mediate the effects of amyloid-β in this cascade. Amyloid plaques comprised of insoluble, fibrillar amyloid-β aggregates are the most characteristic feature of Alzheimer's disease. However, the correspondence between the distribution of plaques and the pattern of neurodegeneration is tenuous. This discrepancy has stimulated the investigation of other amyloid-β aggregates, including soluble amyloid-β oligomers. Different soluble amyloid-β oligomers have been studied in several mouse models, but not systematically in humans. Here, we measured three amyloid-β oligomers previously described in mouse models-amyloid-β trimers, Aβ*56 and amyloid-β dimers-in brain tissue from 75 cognitively intact individuals, ranging from young children to the elderly, and 58 impaired subjects with mild cognitive impairment or probable Alzheimer's disease. As in mouse models, where amyloid-β trimers appear to be the fundamental amyloid-β assembly unit of Aβ*56 and are present in young mice prior to memory decline, amyloid-β trimers in humans were present in children and adolescents; their levels rose gradually with age and were significantly above baseline in subjects in their 70s. Aβ*56 levels were negligible in children and young adults, rose significantly above baseline in subjects in their 40s and increased steadily thereafter. Amyloid-β dimers were undetectable until subjects were in their 60s; their levels then increased sharply and correlated with plaque load. Remarkably, in cognitively intact individuals we found strong positive correlations between Aβ*56 and two pathological forms of soluble tau (tau-CP13 and tau-Alz50), and negative correlations between Aβ*56 and two postsynaptic proteins (drebrin and fyn kinase), but none between amyloid-β dimers or amyloid-β trimers and tau or synaptic proteins. Comparing impaired with age-matched unimpaired subjects, we found the highest levels of amyloid-β dimers, but the lowest levels of Aβ*56 and amyloid-β trimers, in subjects with probable Alzheimer's disease. In conclusion, in cognitively normal adults Aβ*56 increased ahead of amyloid-β dimers or amyloid-β trimers, and pathological tau proteins and postsynaptic proteins correlated with Aβ*56, but not amyloid-β dimers or amyloid-β trimers. We propose that Aβ*56 may play a pathogenic role very early in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease.
    Brain 04/2013; · 10.23 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: IMPORTANCE To improve the ability to develop treatments that prevent incipient Alzheimer disease (AD) from progressing to overt AD, it is important to understand the molecular basis of the earliest pathophysiological abnormalities and to determine how amyloid-β (Aβ) is involved very early in its pathogenesis. OBJECTIVE To investigate 2 specific Aβ oligomers, Aβ trimers and Aβ*56, in human cerebrospinal fluid (CSF); evaluate the effects of aging and AD; and obtain support for the hypothesis that they may be pathogenic by determining their relationships to CSF tau. DESIGN A CSF sampling study. SETTINGS The University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the Salhgrenska University Hospital, Sweden. PARTICIPANTS Forty-eight older adults with mild cognitive impairment or AD (impaired group); 49 age-matched cognitively intact control subjects (unimpaired group); and 10 younger, normal control subjects. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES Measurements of CSF Aβ trimers, Aβ*56, the 42-amino acid Aβ isoform (Aβ1-42), total tau (T-tau), and phospho-tau 181 (p-tau181). The hypothesis being tested was formulated after data collection. RESULTS We observed that Aβ trimers and Aβ*56 levels increased with age; within the unimpaired group, they were elevated in subjects with T-tau/Aβ1-42 ratios greater than a cutoff that distinguished the unimpaired group from subjects with AD. In the unimpaired group, T-tau and p-tau181 were found to correlate strongly with Aβ trimers and Aβ*56 (r > 0.63), but not with Aβ1-42 (-0.10 < r < -0.01). The strong correlations were found to be attenuated in the impaired group. CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE In cognitively intact older adults, CSF Aβ trimers and Aβ*56 were elevated in individuals at risk for AD, and they showed stronger relationships with tau than did Aβ1-42, a surrogate for Aβ fibril deposition. These findings suggest that prior to overt symptoms, 1 or both of the Aβ oligomers, but not fibrillar Aβ, is coupled to tau; however, this coupling is weakened or broken when AD advances to symptomatic stages. The uncoupling is interesting in light of the failure of experimental Aβ therapies to improve mild cognitive impairment/AD, which has prompted a shift in the timing of Aβ therapies to asymptomatic subjects. Knowing which Aβ species to target in asymptomatic subjects may enhance the success of future treatments for AD.
    JAMA neurology. 03/2013;
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    Kathleen R Zahs, Karen H Ashe
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    ABSTRACT: Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a fatal neurodegenerative disorder, and the most common cause of dementia in the elderly. The cause of AD is not known, but genetic evidence strongly supports the hypothesis that pathological aggregation of the β-amyloid protein (Aβ) triggers the disease process. AD has a long preclinical phase, lasting a decade or more. It is during this preclinical phase, before the irreversible neuron loss that characterizes the dementia phase of the disease, that therapies are most likely to be effective. If we are to block AD during the preclinical phase, we must identify the Aβ species that are present before there are overt symptoms and that are associated with downstream markers of pathology. A specific soluble Aβ assembly, the putative dodecamer "Aβ*56," is present in the brains and cerebrospinal fluid of cognitively intact individuals and correlates with markers of synaptic dysfunction and neuronal injury. This assembly also correlates with memory dysfunction in multiple lines of transgenic mice that model the preclinical phase of AD. We suggest that Aβ*56 has a critical role during the earliest phase of AD and might serve as a molecular trigger of the disease.
    Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience 01/2013; 5:28. · 5.20 Impact Factor
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    Karen H Ashe, Adriano Aguzzi
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    ABSTRACT: Like patients with prion disease, Alzheimer patients suffer from a fatal, progressive form of dementia. There is growing evidence that amyloid-β (Aβ) aggregates may be transmissible similar to prions, at least under extreme experimental conditions. However, unlike mice infected with prion protein (PrP) prions, those inoculated with Aβ do not die. The transmission of Aβ and PrP thus differs conspicuously in the neurological effects they induce in their hosts, the difference being no less than a matter of life and death. Far from being a mere academic nuance, this distinction between Aβ and PrP begs the crucial questions of what, exactly, controls prion toxicity and how prion toxicity relates to prion infectivity.
    Prion 12/2012; 7(1). · 2.13 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Neurofibrillary tangles advance from layer II of the entorhinal cortex (EC-II) toward limbic and association cortices as Alzheimer's disease evolves. However, the mechanism involved in this hierarchical pattern of disease progression is unknown. We describe a transgenic mouse model in which overexpression of human tau P301L is restricted to EC-II. Tau pathology progresses from EC transgene-expressing neurons to neurons without detectable transgene expression, first to EC neighboring cells, followed by propagation to neurons downstream in the synaptic circuit such as the dentate gyrus, CA fields of the hippocampus, and cingulate cortex. Human tau protein spreads to these regions and coaggregates with endogenous mouse tau. With age, synaptic degeneration occurs in the entorhinal target zone and EC neurons are lost. These data suggest that a sequence of progressive misfolding of tau proteins, circuit-based transfer to new cell populations, and deafferentation induced degeneration are part of a process of tau-induced neurodegeneration.
    Neuron 02/2012; 73(4):685-97. · 15.77 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Stem cell (SC) lines that capture the genetics of disease susceptibility provide new research tools. To assess the utility of mouse central nervous system (CNS) SC-containing neurosphere cultures for studying heritable neurodegenerative disease, we compared neurosphere cultures from transgenic mice that express human tau with the P301L familial frontotemporal dementia (FTD) mutation, rTg(tau(P301L))4510, with those expressing comparable levels of wild type human tau, rTg(tau(wt))21221. rTg(tau(P301L))4510 mice express the human tau(P301L) variant in their forebrains and display cellular, histological, biochemical and behavioral abnormalities similar to those in human FTD, including age-dependent differences in tau phosphorylation that distinguish them from rTg(tau(wt))21221 mice. We compared FTD-hallmark tau phosphorylation in neurospheres from rTg(tau(P301L))4510 mice and from rTg(tau(wt))21221 mice. The tau genotype-specific phosphorylation patterns in neurospheres mimicked those seen in mice, validating use of neurosphere cultures as models for studying tau phosphorylation. Genotype-specific tau phosphorylation was observed in 35 independent cell lines from individual fetuses; tau in rTg(tau(P301L))4510 cultures was hypophosphorylated in comparison with rTg(tau(wt))21221 as was seen in young adult mice. In addition, there were fewer human tau-expressing cells in rTg(tau(P301L))4510 than in rTg(tau(wt))21221 cultures. Following differentiation, neuronal filopodia-spine density was slightly greater in rTg(tau(P301L))4510 than rTg(tau(wt))21221 and control cultures. Together with the recapitulation of genotype-specific phosphorylation patterns, the observation that neurosphere lines maintained their cell line-specific-differences and retained SC characteristics over several passages supports the utility of SC cultures as surrogates for analysis of cellular disease mechanisms.
    PLoS ONE 01/2012; 7(6):e39328. · 3.53 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Soluble forms of amyloid-β peptide (Aβ) are a molecular focus in Alzheimer's disease research. Soluble Aβ dimers (≈8 kDa), trimers (≈12 kDa), tetramers (≈16 kDa) and Aβ*56 (≈56 kDa) have shown biological activity. These Aβ molecules have been derived from diverse sources, including chemical synthesis, transfected cells, and mouse and human brain, leading to uncertainty about toxicity and potency. Herein, synthetic Aβ peptide-derived oligomers, cell- and brain-derived low-n oligomers, and Aβ*56, were injected intracerebroventricularly (icv) into rats assayed under the Alternating Lever Cyclic Ratio (ALCR) cognitive assay. Cognitive deficits were detected at 1.3 μM of synthetic Aβ oligomers and at low nanomolar concentrations of cell-secreted Aβ oligomers. Trimers, from transgenic mouse brain (Tg2576), did not cause cognitive impairment at any dose tested, whereas Aβ*56 induced concentration-dependent cognitive impairment at 0.9 and 1.3μM. Thus, while multiple forms of Aβ have cognition impairing activity, there are significant differences in effective concentration and potency.
    Neurobiology of aging 10/2011; 32(10):1784-94. · 5.94 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Amyloid-β (Aβ) oligomers, found in the brains of Alzheimer's disease (AD) patients and transgenic mouse models of AD, cause synaptotoxicity and memory impairment. Grape seed polyphenolic extract (GSPE) inhibits Aβ oligomerization in vitro and attenuates cognitive impairment and AD-related neuropathology in the brains of transgenic mice. In the current study, GSPE was administered to Tg2576 mice for a period of five months. Treatment significantly decreased brain levels of Aβ*56, a 56-kDa Aβ oligomer previously shown to induce memory dysfunction in rodents, without changing the levels of transgenic amyloid-β protein precursor, monomeric Aβ, or other Aβ oligomers. These results thus provide the first demonstration that a safe and affordable intervention can lower the levels of a memory-impairing Aβ oligomer in vivo and strongly suggest that GSPE should be further tested as a potential prevention and/or therapy for AD.
    Journal of Alzheimer's disease: JAD 07/2011; 26(4):657-66. · 4.17 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Epidemiologic evidence suggests that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) delay onset of Alzheimer's dementia (AD), but randomized trials show no benefit from NSAIDs in patients with symptomatic AD. The Alzheimer's Disease Anti-inflammatory Prevention Trial (ADAPT) randomized 2,528 elderly persons to naproxen or celecoxib versus placebo for 2 years (standard deviation = 11 months) before treatments were terminated. During the treatment interval, 32 cases of AD revealed increased rates in both NSAID-assigned groups. We continued the double-masked ADAPT protocol for 2 additional years to investigate incidence of AD (primary outcome). We then collected cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from 117 volunteer participants to assess their ratio of CSF tau to Aβ(1-42.) Including 40 new events observed during follow-up of 2,071 randomized individuals (92% of participants at treatment cessation), there were 72 AD cases. Overall, NSAID-related harm was no longer evident, but secondary analyses showed that increased risk remained notable in the first 2.5 years of observations, especially in 54 persons enrolled with cognitive impairment--no dementia (CIND). These same analyses showed later reduction in AD incidence among asymptomatic enrollees who were given naproxen. CSF biomarker assays suggested that the latter result reflected reduced Alzheimer-type neurodegeneration. These data suggest a revision of the original ADAPT hypothesis that NSAIDs reduce AD risk, as follows: NSAIDs have an adverse effect in later stages of AD pathogenesis, whereas asymptomatic individuals treated with conventional NSAIDs such as naproxen experience reduced AD incidence, but only after 2 to 3 years. Thus, treatment effects differ at various stages of disease. This hypothesis is consistent with data from both trials and epidemiological studies.
    Alzheimer's & dementia: the journal of the Alzheimer's Association 07/2011; 7(4):402-11. · 14.48 Impact Factor
  • Alzheimer's and Dementia 07/2011; 7(4). · 17.47 Impact Factor
  • Alzheimers & Dementia - ALZHEIMERS DEMENT. 01/2011; 7(4).
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    ABSTRACT: The microtubule-associated protein tau accumulates in Alzheimer's and other fatal dementias, which manifest when forebrain neurons die. Recent advances in understanding these disorders indicate that brain dysfunction precedes neurodegeneration, but the role of tau is unclear. Here, we show that early tau-related deficits develop not from the loss of synapses or neurons, but rather as a result of synaptic abnormalities caused by the accumulation of hyperphosphorylated tau within intact dendritic spines, where it disrupts synaptic function by impairing glutamate receptor trafficking or synaptic anchoring. Mutagenesis of 14 disease-associated serine and threonine amino acid residues to create pseudohyperphosphorylated tau caused tau mislocalization while creation of phosphorylation-deficient tau blocked the mistargeting of tau to dendritic spines. Thus, tau phosphorylation plays a critical role in mediating tau mislocalization and subsequent synaptic impairment. These data establish that the locus of early synaptic malfunction caused by tau resides in dendritic spines.
    Neuron 12/2010; 68(6):1067-81. · 15.77 Impact Factor
  • Kathleen R Zahs, Karen H Ashe
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    ABSTRACT: Scores of compounds ameliorate cognitive deficits or neuropathology in transgenic mouse models of Alzheimer's disease (AD), yet these triumphs in mice have not translated into successful therapies for people. Why have studies in mice failed to predict results of human trials? We argue that most transgenic mouse 'models of AD' actually simulate the asymptomatic phase of the disease, and the results of interventional studies in these mice should be considered in the context of disease prevention. In addition, recent advances in imaging technology and biomarker discovery should aid in comparisons of mouse and human neurological status and, importantly, might allow us to predict better the response of people to drugs tested in mice.
    Trends in Neurosciences 08/2010; 33(8):381-9. · 13.58 Impact Factor
  • Karen H. Ashe
    Protein Misfolding Diseases: Current and Emerging Principles and Therapies, 07/2010: pages 213 - 229; , ISBN: 9780470572702
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    Karen H Ashe, Kathleen R Zahs
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    ABSTRACT: Alzheimer's disease (AD), the most common cause of dementia among the elderly, may either represent the far end of a continuum that begins with age-related memory decline or a distinct pathobiological process. Although mice that faithfully model all aspects of AD do not yet exist, current mouse models have provided valuable insights into specific aspects of AD pathogenesis. We will argue that transgenic mice expressing amyloid precursor protein should be considered models of accelerated brain aging or asymptomatic AD, and the results of interventional studies in these mice should be considered in the context of primary prevention. Studies in mice have pointed to the roles of soluble beta-amyloid (Abeta) oligomers and soluble tau in disease pathogenesis and support a model in which soluble Abeta oligomers trigger synaptic dysfunction, but formation of abnormal tau species leads to neuron death and cognitive decline severe enough to warrant a dementia diagnosis.
    Neuron 06/2010; 66(5):631-45. · 15.77 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The most widely used mouse model of Alzheimer's disease is the Tg2576 (APP(SWE)) model. While general agreement about their neuropathology prevails, disparate results concerning cognitive changes have been reported. To resolve this controversy, we combined Morris water maze data collected over >10 years to determine the extent of memory impairment. APP(SWE) mice exhibited an age-dependent decline in memory, but the effect size was small when compared to non-transgenic littermates. Larger effect sizes were achieved when comparing APP(SWE) and Tg5469 (APP(WT)) mice.
    Behavioural brain research 04/2010; 212(1):115-20. · 3.22 Impact Factor
  • Alzheimers & Dementia - ALZHEIMERS DEMENT. 01/2010; 6(4).
  • Alzheimers & Dementia - ALZHEIMERS DEMENT. 01/2010; 6(4).
  • Alzheimers & Dementia - ALZHEIMERS DEMENT. 01/2010; 6(4).
  • Alzheimers & Dementia - ALZHEIMERS DEMENT. 01/2010; 6(4).

Publication Stats

8k Citations
469.87 Total Impact Points

Institutions

  • 1999–2013
    • University of Minnesota Duluth
      Duluth, Minnesota, United States
  • 2006–2012
    • Massachusetts General Hospital
      • Department of Neurology
      Boston, MA, United States
  • 2004–2012
    • McLaughlin Research Institute
      Great Falls, Montana, United States
    • University of California, Los Angeles
      • Department of Medicine
      Los Angeles, CA, United States
  • 2010
    • The Scripps Research Institute
      La Jolla, California, United States
  • 2000–2010
    • University of Minnesota Twin Cities
      • Department of Neurology
      Minneapolis, MN, United States
    • University of Washington Seattle
      • Department of Neurology
      Seattle, WA, United States
  • 2004–2005
    • Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Hospital
      Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States
  • 2002
    • Boston University
      • Department of Physics
      Boston, MA, United States