A single ultrasensitive assay for detection and discrimination of tau aggregates of Alzheimer and Pick diseases

Michael A. Metrick, Natália Do Carmo Ferreira, Eri Saijo, Allison Kraus, Kathy Newell, Gianluigi Zanusso, Michele Vendruscolo, Bernardino Ghetti, Byron Caughey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations


Multiple neurodegenerative diseases are characterized by aggregation of tau molecules. Adult humans express six isoforms of tau that contain either 3 or 4 microtubule binding repeats (3R or 4R tau). Different diseases involve preferential aggregation of 3R (e.g Pick disease), 4R (e.g. progressive supranuclear palsy), or both 3R and 4R tau molecules [e.g. Alzheimer disease and chronic traumatic encephalopathy]. Three ultrasensitive cell-free seed amplification assays [called tau real-Time quaking induced conversion (tau RT-QuIC) assays] have been developed that preferentially detect 3R, 4R, or 3R/4R tau aggregates in biospecimens. In these reactions, low-fg amounts of a given self-propagating protein aggregate (the seed) are incubated with a vast excess of recombinant tau monomers (the substrate) in multi-well plates. Over time, the seeds incorporate the substrate to grow into amyloids that can then be detected using thioflavin T fluorescence. Here we describe a tau RT-QuIC assay (K12 RT-QuIC) that, using a C-Terminally extended recombinant 3R tau substrate (K12CFh), enables sensitive detection of Pick disease, Alzheimer disease, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy seeds in brain homogenates. The discrimination of Pick disease from Alzheimer disease and chronic traumatic encephalopathy cases is then achieved through the quantitative differences in K12 RT-QuIC assay thioflavin T responses, which correlate with structural properties of the reaction products. In particular, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy analysis of the respective K12CFh amyloids showed distinct β-sheet conformations, suggesting at least partial propagation of the original seed conformations in vitro. Thus, K12 RT-QuIC provides a single assay for ultrasensitive detection and discrimination of tau aggregates comprised mainly of 3R, or both 3R and 4R, tau isoforms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number22
JournalActa Neuropathologica Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 22 2020


  • Alzheimer disease
  • Chronic traumatic encephalopathy
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Pick disease
  • Primary age-related tauopathy
  • Protein misfolding
  • RT-QuIC
  • Seed
  • Tau

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

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  • Cite this

    Metrick, M. A., Ferreira, N. D. C., Saijo, E., Kraus, A., Newell, K., Zanusso, G., Vendruscolo, M., Ghetti, B., & Caughey, B. (2020). A single ultrasensitive assay for detection and discrimination of tau aggregates of Alzheimer and Pick diseases. Acta Neuropathologica Communications, 8(1), [22]. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40478-020-0887-z