Introduction: We have identified structural determinants on tau protein that are essential for pathological tau-tau interaction in Alzheimer's disease (AD). These regulatory domains, revealed by monoclonal antibody DC8E8, represent a novel target for tau-directed therapy. In order to validate this target, we have developed an active vaccine, AADvac1.
Methods: A tau peptide encompassing the epitope revealed by DC8E8 was selected for the development of an active vaccine targeting structural determinants on mis-disordered tau protein that are essential for pathological tau-tau interaction. The efficacy of the vaccine was tested in a transgenic rat model of human tauopathies. Toxicology and safety pharmacology studies were conducted under good laboratory practice conditions in multiple rodent and nonrodent species.
Results: We have administered the tau peptide vaccine to a rat model of AD to investigate whether the vaccine can improve its clinical, histopathological and biochemical AD phenotype. Our results show that vaccination induced a robust protective humoral immune response, with antibodies discriminating between pathological and physiological tau. Active immunotherapy reduced the levels of tau oligomers and the extent of neurofibrillary pathology in the brains of transgenic rats. Strikingly, immunotherapy has reduced AD-type hyperphosphorylation of tau by approximately 95%. Also, the tau peptide vaccine improved the clinical phenotype of transgenic animals. Toxicology and safety pharmacology studies showed an excellent safety and tolerability profile of the AADvac1 vaccine.
Conclusions: Active immunisation targeting crucial domains of Alzheimer tau eliminated tau aggregation and neurofibrillary pathology. Most importantly, the AD type of tau hyperphosphorylation was abolished by vaccination across a wide range of AD phospho-epitopes. Our results demonstrate that active immunisation led to elimination of all major hallmarks of neurofibrillary pathology, which was reflected by a profound improvement in the clinical presentation of transgenic rats. This makes the investigated tau peptide vaccine a highly promising candidate therapeutic for the disease-modifying treatment of AD. The tested vaccine displayed a highly favourable safety profile in preclinical toxicity studies, which opens up the possibility of using it for AD prophylaxis in the future. The vaccine has already entered phase I clinical trial under the name AADvac1.
Trial registration: Current Controlled Trials NCT01850238. Registered 7 May 2013.