Seeding selectivity and ultrasensitive detection of tau aggregate conformers of Alzheimer disease

Allison Kraus, Eri Saijo, Michael A. Metrick, Kathy Newell, Christina J. Sigurdson, Gianluigi Zanusso, Bernardino Ghetti, Byron Caughey

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16 Scopus citations


Alzheimer disease (AD) and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) involve the abnormal accumulation in the brain of filaments composed of both three-repeat (3R) and four-repeat (4R) (3R/4R) tau isoforms. To probe the molecular basis for AD’s tau filament propagation and to improve detection of tau aggregates as potential biomarkers, we have exploited the seeded polymerization growth mechanism of tau filaments to develop a highly selective and ultrasensitive cell-free tau seed amplification assay optimized for AD (AD real-time quaking-induced conversion or AD RT-QuIC). The reaction is based on the ability of AD tau aggregates to seed the formation of amyloid fibrils made of certain recombinant tau fragments. AD RT-QuIC detected seeding activity in AD (n = 16) brains at dilutions as extreme as 10 7 –10 10 -fold, but was 10 2 –10 6 -fold less responsive when seeded with brain from most cases of other types of tauopathy with comparable loads of predominant 3R or 4R tau aggregates. For example, AD brains had average seeding activities that were orders of magnitude higher than Pick disease brains with predominant 3R tau deposits, but the opposite was true using our previously described Pick-optimized tau RT-QuIC assay. CTE brains (n = 2) had seed concentrations comparable to the weakest of the AD specimens, and higher than 3 of 4 specimens with 3R/4R primary age-related tauopathy. AD seeds shared properties with the tau filaments found in AD brains, as AD seeds were sarkosyl-insoluble, protease resistant, and reactive with tau antibodies. Moreover, AD RT-QuIC detected as little as 16 fg of pure synthetic tau fibrils. The distinctive seeding activity exhibited by AD and CTE tau filaments compared to other types of tauopathies in these seeded polymerization reactions provides a mechanistic basis for their consistent propagation as specific conformers in patients with 3R/4R tau diseases. Importantly, AD RT-QuIC also provides rapid ultrasensitive quantitation of 3R/4R tau-seeding activity as a biomarker.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)585-598
Number of pages14
JournalActa Neuropathologica
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2019


  • Alzheimer disease
  • Biomarker
  • Chronic traumatic encephalopathy
  • Diagnosis
  • RT-QuIC
  • Seeds
  • Tau aggregate
  • Tauopathy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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

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  • Cite this

    Kraus, A., Saijo, E., Metrick, M. A., Newell, K., Sigurdson, C. J., Zanusso, G., Ghetti, B., & Caughey, B. (2019). Seeding selectivity and ultrasensitive detection of tau aggregate conformers of Alzheimer disease. Acta Neuropathologica, 137(4), 585-598.