Phosphorylated tau231 (P-tau231) is a damaged tau protein found in patients with Alzheimer's disease. The study, conducted by researchers at NYU School of Medicine and published in this month's Neurobiology of Aging, shows that the presence of the protein can predict future memory decline as well as a loss of brain gray matter in the medial temporal lobe - a key memory center in the brain.
Other studies have shown that in Alzheimer's disease, tangles of damaged tau proteins gather in the medial temporal lobe.
"Our findings suggest that P-tau231 has the potential to be an important diagnostic tool in the pre-symptomatic stages of Alzheimer's disease," said lead author Dr. Lidia Glodzik, an assistant research professor at the Department of Psychiatry at the Center for Brain Health and Center of Excellence on Brain Aging at NYU School of Medicine.
Researchers followed 57 healthy older adults and looked at memory performance and gray matter using MRI scans. Two years later, 20 of the subjects had worsened memory and more atrophy in the medial temporal lobe, as well as higher baseline levels of P-tau231.
"Indentifying people at risk for Alzheimer's disease is the necessary first step in developing preventive therapies," said co-author Mony de Leon, a professor at the Department of Psychiatry and director of the Center for Brain Health at the Center of Excellence on Brain Aging at NYU School of Medicine and Research Scientist at the Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research. "This study shows that Alzheimer's disease pathology may be recognized in the normal stages of cognition. This observation may be of value in future studies investigating mechanisms that cause or accelerate dementia."