Review: Tau in biofluids - relation to pathology, imaging and clinical features

Neuropathol Appl Neurobiol. 2017 Apr;43(3):194-199. doi: 10.1111/nan.12378.


Tau is a microtubule-binding protein that is important for the stability of neuronal axons. It is normally expressed within neurons and is also secreted into the brain interstitial fluid that communicates freely with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and, in a more restricted manner, blood via the glymphatic clearance system of the brain. In Alzheimer's disease (AD), neuroaxonal degeneration results in increased release of tau from neurons. Furthermore, tau is truncated and phosphorylated, which leads to aggregation of tau in neurofibrillary tangles of the proximal axoplasm. Neuroaxonal degeneration and tangle formation are reflected by increased concentrations of total tau (T-tau, measured using assays that detect most forms of tau) and phospho-tau (P-tau, measured using assays with antibodies specific to phosphorylated forms of tau). In AD CSF, both T-tau and P-tau concentrations are increased. In stroke and other CNS disorders with neuroaxonal injury but without tangles, T-tau is selectively increased, whereas P-tau concentration often stays normal. In tauopathies (diseases with both neurodegeneration and neurofibrillary tangles) other than AD, CSF T-tau and P-tau concentrations are typically unaltered, which is a puzzling result that warrants further investigation. In the current review, I discuss the association of T-tau and P-tau concentrations in body fluids with neuropathological changes, imaging findings and clinical features in AD and other CNS diseases.

Keywords: Alzheimer's disease; biomarker; cerebrospinal fluid; plasma; tau.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Central Nervous System Diseases / metabolism*
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / pathology
  • Humans
  • tau Proteins / analysis*
  • tau Proteins / metabolism*


  • tau Proteins