Identification of structural determinants on tau protein essential for its pathological function: novel therapeutic target for tau immunotherapy in Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimers Res Ther. 2014 Aug 1;6(4):45. doi: 10.1186/alzrt277. eCollection 2014.


Introduction: Pathologically modified tau protein is the main feature of Alzheimer's disease (AD) and related tauopathies. Therefore, immunotherapies that target mis-disordered tau represent a promising avenue for the disease-modifying treatment of AD. In this report, we present our discovery of (1) a novel target for tau immunotherapy; (2) monoclonal antibody DC8E8, which neutralizes this target; and (3) the results of efficacy studies of DC8E8 in a murine model of tauopathy.

Methods: In vitro tau oligomerisation assays were used for the selection of antibodies. The therapeutic efficacy of DC8E8 was evaluated in transgenic mice. The structure of the DC8E8 epitope was determined by X-ray crystallography.

Results: Screening of a panel of monoclonal antibodies for their inhibitory activity in an in vitro pathological tau-tau interaction assay yielded DC8E8, which reduced the amount of oligomeric tau by 84%. DC8E8 recognised all developmental stages of tau pathology in AD human brains, including pretangles and intra- and extracellular tangles. Treatment with DC8E8 in a mouse AD model expressing mis-disordered human tau significantly reduced the amount of insoluble oligomerised tau and the number of early and mature neurofibrillary tangles in the transgenic mouse brains. By using a panel of tau-derived peptides in a competitive enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, we identified the tau domain essential for pathological tau-tau interaction, which is targeted by DC8E8. The antibody was capable of binding to four highly homologous and yet independent binding regions on tau, each of which is a separate epitope. The X-ray structure of the DC8E8 Fab apo form, solved at 3.0 Å, suggested that the four DC8E8 epitopes form protruding structures on the tau molecule. Finally, by kinetic measurements with surface plasmon resonance, we determined that antibody DC8E8 is highly discriminatory between pathological and physiological tau.

Conclusions: We have discovered defined determinants on mis-disordered truncated tau protein which are responsible for tau oligomerisation leading to neurofibrillary degeneration. Antibody DC8E8 reactive with these determinants is able to inhibit tau-tau interaction in vitro and in vivo. DC8E8 is able to discriminate between the healthy and diseased tau proteome, making its epitopes suitable targets, and DC8E8 a suitable candidate molecule, for AD immunotherapy.