Differential Mass Spectrometry Profiles of Tau Protein in the Cerebrospinal Fluid of Patients with Alzheimer's Disease, Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, and Dementia with Lewy Bodies

J Alzheimers Dis. 2016;51(4):1033-43. doi: 10.3233/JAD-150962.


Microtubule-associated Tau proteins are major actors in neurological disorders, the so-called tauopathies. In some of them, and specifically in Alzheimer's disease (AD), hyperphosphorylated forms of Tau aggregate into neurofibrillary tangles. Following and understanding the complexity of Tau's molecular profile with its multiple isoforms and post-translational modifications represent an important issue, and a major analytical challenge. Immunodetection methods are, in fact, limited by the number, specificity, sensitivity, and capturing property of the available antibodies. Mass spectrometry (MS) has recently allowed protein quantification in complex biological fluids using isotope-labeled recombinant standard for absolute quantification (PSAQ). To study Tau proteins, which are found at very low concentrations within the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), we relied on an innovative two-step pre-fractionation strategy, which was not dependent on immuno-enrichment. We then developed a sensitive multiplex peptide detection capability using targeted high-resolution MS to quantify Tau-specific peptides covering its entire sequence. This approach was used on a clinical cohort of patients with AD, progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), and dementia with Lewy body (DLB) and with control non-neurodegenerative disorders. We uncovered a common CSF Tau molecular profile characterized by a predominance of central core expression and 1N/3R isoform detection. While PSP and DLB tau profiles showed minimal changes, AD was characterized by a unique pattern with specific modifications of peptide distribution. Taken together these results provide important information on Tau biology for future therapeutic interventions, and improved molecular diagnosis of tauopathies.

Keywords: Cerebrospinal fluid; mass spectrometry; neurodegenerative disease; tau protein.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / cerebrospinal fluid*
  • Alzheimer Disease / diagnostic imaging
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / metabolism
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lewy Body Disease / cerebrospinal fluid*
  • Male
  • Mental Status Schedule
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuroimaging
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Peptide Fragments / metabolism
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption-Ionization
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Supranuclear Palsy, Progressive / cerebrospinal fluid*
  • Supranuclear Palsy, Progressive / diagnostic imaging
  • tau Proteins / cerebrospinal fluid*


  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • Peptide Fragments
  • amyloid beta-protein (1-42)
  • tau Proteins