Elevated tau and interleukin-6 concentrations in adults with obstructive sleep apnea

Sleep Med. 2018 Mar;43:71-76. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2017.11.1121. Epub 2017 Nov 24.


Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is characterized by apneas and hypopneas that result in hypoxia, cerebral hypoperfusion, endothelial dysfunction, inflammation, and oxidative stress. These pathophysiologic processes likely contribute to neuronal damage. Tau is a protein that stabilizes microtubules and, along with amyloid beta (Aβ), is associated with neurodegenerative processes. We sought to determine if tau and other biomarkers of inflammation were related to OSA severity. Concentrations of tau, Aβ40, Aβ42, c-reactive protein (CRP), TNF-α, interleukin (IL)-6, and IL-10 were measured in blood and compared between participants with moderate-severe OSA (n = 28), those with mild OSA (n = 22), and healthy controls (n = 24). The cohort included relatively young, primarily male active duty military personnel without a history of traumatic brain injury or neurodegenerative disease. Total biomarker concentrations were determined from plasma samples using an ultra-sensitive detection method, Simoa™, and CRP was assayed by ELISA. Total tau and IL-6 concentrations were elevated in participants with moderate-severe OSA, with a mean apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) of 26.1/h, compared to those with mild OSA (mean AHI 8.6/h) and healthy controls (mean AHI 2.1/h). Tau concentrations were also significantly correlated with the AHI (r = 0.342, p = 0.004). Our findings show that tau is elevated in the blood of young patients with moderate-severe OSA, suggesting that this degree of sleep-disordered breathing is a contributing factor in the development of neurodegenerative disorders. The finding of increased IL-6 further suggests that inflammatory biomarkers are present early in the course of this chronic disease.

Keywords: Biomarkers; Inflammation; Interleukin-6 (IL-6); Neurodegeneration; Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA); Tau.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-6 / blood*
  • Male
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / blood
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / physiopathology*
  • tau Proteins / blood*


  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • Interleukin-6
  • tau Proteins