Science News
from research organizations

Tau prevents synaptic transmission at early stage of neurodegeneration

Date:
May 19, 2017
Source:
VIB - Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology
Summary:
Tau proteins are involved in more than twenty neurodegenerative diseases, including various forms of dementia. These proteins clump together in patients’ brains to form neuronal tangles: protein aggregation that eventually coincides with the death of brain cells. A research team has now discovered how tau disrupts the functioning of nerve cells, even before it starts forming tangles. They immediately suggest a way to intervene in this process.
Share:
FULL STORY

Tau proteins are best known as the proteins that are stacked to form neuronal "tangles" in Alzheimer's patients' brains, but they also play a role in many other brain disorders such as Parkinson's and Huntington's disease. In healthy circumstances, tau proteins are connected to the cytoskeleton of nerve cells, where they support the cells' structural stability. In the nerve cells of patients, however, tau is dislodged from the cytoskeleton and ultimately tangles together to form protein accumulations that disrupt the nerve cell's functioning.

Early spoilsport

But even before these protein accumulations are formed, the dislodged tau impedes the communication between nerve cells. VIB's research team has described a new mechanism for this in the journal Nature Communications.

Professor Patrik Verstreken (VIB-KU Leuven) explains: "We have demonstrated that when mutant tau dislodges from the cytoskeleton, it mainly settles at the synapses of the nerve cells. This was not only the case in fruit flies and rats but also in the brain cells of human patients. Vesicles containing chemicals are released at these synapses, which serve as the means of communication between two different nerve cells. When tau settles at the synapse, it locks onto the vesicles, inhibiting synaptic transmission."

Fundamental research with prospects for therapeutic applications

These new insights are the result of a close collaboration between different laboratories at VIB, the universities of Leuven, Louvain-la-Neuve (both in Belgium), and Edinburgh (UK), and with researchers from Janssen Pharmaceutica. They pave the way for a possible treatment.

"Now that we know how tau inhibits synaptic transmission, we can look for ways to prevent it." Patrik Verstreken already provided proof of principle: "If we stop tau from locking onto the vesicles in the nerve cells of rats and fruit flies, we can prevent the inhibition of synaptic transmission and also the death of nerve cells." Further research should reveal whether this strategy will also be useful for patients.

​Questions from patients

A breakthrough in research is not the same as a breakthrough in medicine. The realizations of VIB researchers can form the basis of new therapies, but the development path still takes years. This can raise a lot of questions. That is why we ask you to please refer questions in your report or article to the email address that VIB makes available for this purpose: patienteninfo@vib.be. Everyone can submit questions concerning this and other medically-oriented research directly to VIB via this address.


Story Source:

Materials provided by VIB - Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Lujia Zhou, Joseph McInnes, Keimpe Wierda, Matthew Holt, Abigail G. Herrmann, Rosemary J. Jackson, Yu-Chun Wang, Jef Swerts, Jelle Beyens, Katarzyna Miskiewicz, Sven Vilain, Ilse Dewachter, Diederik Moechars, Bart De Strooper, Tara L. Spires-Jones, Joris De Wit, Patrik Verstreken. Tau association with synaptic vesicles causes presynaptic dysfunction. Nature Communications, 2017; 8: 15295 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms15295

Cite This Page:

VIB - Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology. "Tau prevents synaptic transmission at early stage of neurodegeneration." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 May 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170519083811.htm>.
VIB - Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology. (2017, May 19). Tau prevents synaptic transmission at early stage of neurodegeneration. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 25, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170519083811.htm
VIB - Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology. "Tau prevents synaptic transmission at early stage of neurodegeneration." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170519083811.htm (accessed May 25, 2017).

RELATED STORIES