Tau protein in cerebrospinal fluid: a biochemical marker for axonal degeneration in Alzheimer disease?
Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) biochemical markers for Alzheimer disease (AD) would be of great value to improve the clinical diagnostic accuracy of the disorder. As abnormally phosphorylated forms of the microtubule-associated protein tau have been consistently found in the brains of AD patients, and since tau can be detected in CSF, two assays based on several well-defined monoclonal tau antibodies were used to study these proteins in CSF. One assay detects most normal and abnormal forms of tau (CSF-tau), while the other is highly specific for phosphorylated tau (CSF-PHFtau). A marked increase in CSF-PHFtau was found in AD (2230 +/- 930 pg/mL), as compared with controls (640 +/- 230 pg/mL; p < 0.0001), vascular dementia, VAD (1610 +/- 840 pg/mL; p < 0.05), frontal lobe dementia, FLD (1530 +/- 1000 pg/mL; p < 0.05), Parkinson disease, PD (720 +/- 590 pg/mL; p < 0.0001), and patients with major depression (230 +/- 130 pg/mL; p < 0.0001). Parallel results were obtained for CSF-tau. No less than 35/40 (88%) of AD patients had a CSF-PHFtau value higher than the cutoff level of 1140 pg/mL in controls. The present study demonstrates that elevated tau/PHFtau levels are consistently found in CSF of AD patients. However, a considerable overlap is still present with other forms of dementia, both VAD and FLD. CSF-tau and CSF-PHFtau may therefore be useful as a positive biochemical marker, to discriminate AD from normal aging, PD, and depressive pseudodementia. Further studies are needed to clarify the sensitivity and specificity of these assays, including follow-up studies with neuropathological examinations.
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