DOI: 10.1002/alz.078720 ISSN: 1552-5260

Characteristics of AD‐brain tau aggregate internalisation by human astrocytes and the responses induced

Matthew J Reid, Beatriz G. Perez‐Nievas, Wendy Noble, Pingting Cao
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Neurology (clinical)
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Health Policy
  • Epidemiology



Highly phosphorylated tau aggregates are deposited in tauopathy brain as disease progresses, driven by a prion‐like spread of tau seeds. Evidence suggests that astrocytes may influence tau spread. However, the efficiency of uptake of disease‐associated tau species is not well defined, nor are the effects of tau uptake on astrocyte reactivity and function. We investigate human astrocyte ability to internalise and clear tau aggregates derived from multiple Alzheimer’s disease (AD) cases, and their impact on astrocyte function and reactivity. We further explore alterations in endogenous tau expression, APP processing and cytoskeletal proteins following tau uptake.


Control human iPSC‐derived astrocytes were cultured for 70 days. Aggregated (sarkosyl‐insoluble) tau was isolated from postmortem AD brain. Post‐translational modifications (PTM) of isolated AD‐brain tau aggregates were analysed by mass spectrometry. Tau (0.1 ng/µL) and extracts from control human brain were spiked into astrocyte cultures. Internalisation of aggregated tau and the localised response of S100B and GFAP were quantified by ICC. Changes to tau, APP, functional and reactivity related genes were measured by qPCR and/or proteins by SDS‐PAGE.


Aggregated tau from AD brain is readily internalised by human astrocytes, and sequesters GFAP and S100B. Differences in the rate of uptake, clearance and seeding of tau correlates with cytoskeletal protein accumulation and specific changes in astrocyte mRNA and protein levels. Work is in progress to relate these changes to characteristics of tau aggregates.


Our data shows that the capacity of AD brain aggregates to be internalised, cleared and induce seeding of endogenous tau varies by case. Investigations are underway to pinpoint the tau characteristics that underlie these differences. We also show that seeding ability is associated with changes in cytoskeletal elements and reactivity markers at mRNA and protein level. This work agrees with growing evidence that tau variability in AD is linked with specific cell type vulnerabilities that contribute to tau spread and disease progression.

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