Administration of the benzodiazepine midazolam increases tau phosphorylation in the mouse brain

Neurobiol Aging. 2019 Mar;75:11-24. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2018.10.027. Epub 2018 Nov 8.


Preclinical studies have shown that anesthesia might accelerate the clinical progression of Alzheimer's disease (AD) and can have an impact on tau pathology, a hallmark of AD. Although benzodiazepines have been suggested to increase the risk of incident dementia, their impact on tau pathology in vivo is unknown. We thus examined the impact of midazolam, a benzodiazepine that is often administered perioperatively as an anxiolytic, on tau hyperphosphorylation in nontransgenic and in hTau mice, the latter a model of AD-like tau pathology. The acute administration of midazolam in C57BL/6 mice was associated with downregulation of protein phosphatase-1 and a significant and persistent increase in brain tau phosphorylation. In hTau mice, tau hyperphosphorylation was also observed; however, midazolam was neither associated with proaggregant changes nor spatial reference memory impairment. In C57BL/6 mice, chronic midazolam administration immediately increased hippocampal tau phosphorylation, and this effect was more pronounced in older mice. Interestingly, in young C57BL/6 mice, chronic midazolam administration induced hippocampal tau hyperphosphorylation, which persisted for 1 week. In hTau mice, chronic midazolam administration increased hippocampal tau phosphorylation and, although this was not associated with proaggregant changes, this correlated with a decreased capacity of tau to bind to preassembled microtubules. These findings suggest that midazolam can induce significant tau hyperphosphorylation in vivo, which persists well beyond recovery from its sedative effects. Moreover, it can disrupt one of tau's critical functions. Hence, future studies should focus on the impact of more prolonged or repeated benzodiazepine exposure on tau pathology and cognitive decline.

Keywords: Barnes maze; Benzodiazepines; Protein phosphatase-1; Spatial memory; Tau pathology; hTau mice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology
  • Animals
  • Benzodiazepines / pharmacology*
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Hippocampus / drug effects
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Memory Disorders / pathology
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Phosphorylation / drug effects*
  • Spatial Memory / drug effects
  • Spatial Memory / physiology
  • tau Proteins / drug effects
  • tau Proteins / metabolism*


  • tau Proteins
  • Benzodiazepines