Harnessing the immune system for treatment and detection of tau pathology

J Alzheimers Dis. 2014;40 Suppl 1(0):S113-21. doi: 10.3233/JAD-132435.


The tau protein is an attractive target for therapy and diagnosis. We started a tau immunotherapy program about 13 years ago and have since demonstrated that active and passive immunotherapies diminish tau pathology and improve function, including cognition, in different mouse models. These findings have been confirmed and extended by several groups. We routinely detect neuronal, and to a lesser extent microglial, antibody uptake correlating with tau pathology. Antibodies bind tau aggregates in the endosomal/lysosomal system, enhancing clearance presumably by promoting their disassembly. Extracellular clearance has recently been shown by others, using antibodies that apparently are not internalized. As most pathological tau is neuronal, intracellular targeting may be more efficacious. However, extracellular tau may be more accessible to antibodies, with tau-antibody complexes a target for microglial phagocytosis. The extent of involvement of each pathway may depend on numerous factors including antibody properties, degree of pathology, and experimental model. On the imaging front, multiple tau ligands derived from β-sheet dyes have been developed by several groups, some with promising results in clinical PET tests. Postmortem analysis should clarify their tau specificity, as in theory and based on histological staining, those are likely to have some affinity for various amyloids. We are developing antibody-derived tau probes that should be more specific, and have in mouse models shown in vivo detection and binding to pathological tau after peripheral injection. These are exciting times for research on tau therapies and diagnostic agents that hopefully can be applied to humans in the near future.

Keywords: Antibodies; imaging; immunotherapy; tau.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / immunology
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology
  • Alzheimer Disease / therapy*
  • Animals
  • Brain / immunology
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Immune System / metabolism
  • Immune System / pathology*
  • Immunotherapy*
  • Phosphorylation
  • tau Proteins / metabolism*


  • tau Proteins