Sequential stages and distribution patterns of aging-related tau astrogliopathy (ARTAG) in the human brain

Acta Neuropathol Commun. 2018 Jun 11;6(1):50. doi: 10.1186/s40478-018-0552-y.


Aging-related tau astrogliopathy (ARTAG) describes tau pathology in astrocytes in different locations and anatomical regions. In the present study we addressed the question of whether sequential distribution patterns can be recognized for ARTAG or astroglial tau pathologies in both primary FTLD-tauopathies and non-FTLD-tauopathy cases. By evaluating 687 postmortem brains with diverse disorders we identified ARTAG in 455. We evaluated frequencies and hierarchical clustering of anatomical involvement and used conditional probability and logistic regression to model the sequential distribution of ARTAG and astroglial tau pathologies across different brain regions. For subpial and white matter ARTAG we recognize three and two patterns, respectively, each with three stages initiated or ending in the amygdala. Subependymal ARTAG does not show a clear sequential pattern. For grey matter (GM) ARTAG we recognize four stages including a striatal pathway of spreading towards the cortex and/or amygdala, and the brainstem, and an amygdala pathway, which precedes the involvement of the striatum and/or cortex and proceeds towards the brainstem. GM ARTAG and astrocytic plaque pathology in corticobasal degeneration follows a predominantly frontal-parietal cortical to temporal-occipital cortical, to subcortical, to brainstem pathway (four stages). GM ARTAG and tufted astrocyte pathology in progressive supranuclear palsy shows a striatum to frontal-parietal cortical to temporal to occipital, to amygdala, and to brainstem sequence (four stages). In Pick's disease cases with astroglial tau pathology an overlapping pattern with PSP can be appreciated. We conclude that tau-astrogliopathy type-specific sequential patterns cannot be simplified as neuron-based staging systems. The proposed cytopathological and hierarchical stages provide a conceptual approach to identify the initial steps of the pathogenesis of tau pathologies in ARTAG and primary FTLD-tauopathies.

Keywords: ARTAG; Aging-related tau astrogliopathy; Astrocytic plaque; Brain barrier; Hierarchical involvement; Ramified astrocyte; Spreading; Tau; Tauopathy; Tufted astrocyte.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / pathology*
  • Astrocytes / metabolism
  • Astrocytes / pathology*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Diagnosis
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / pathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Tauopathies / classification
  • Tauopathies / metabolism
  • Tauopathies / pathology*
  • White Matter / pathology
  • tau Proteins / metabolism*


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • TARDBP protein, human
  • tau Proteins