Traumatic Brain Injury Induces Tau Aggregation and Spreading

J Neurotrauma. 2020 Jan 1;37(1):80-92. doi: 10.1089/neu.2018.6348. Epub 2019 Aug 28.


The misfolding and aggregation of tau protein into neurofibrillary tangles is the main underlying hallmark of tauopathies. Most tauopathies have a sporadic origin and can be associated with multiple risk factors. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) has been suggested as a risk factor for tauopathies by triggering disease onset and facilitating its progression. Several studies indicate that TBI seems to be a risk factor to development of Alzheimer disease and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, because there is a relationship of TBI severity and propensity to development of these illnesses. In this study, we evaluated whether moderate to severe TBI can trigger the initial formation of pathological tau that would induce the development of the pathology throughout the brain. To this end, we subjected tau transgenic mice to TBI and assessed tau phosphorylation and aggregation pattern to create a spatial heat map of tau deposition and spreading in the brain. Our results suggest that brain injured tau transgenic mice have an accelerated tau pathology in different brain regions that increases over time compared with sham mice. The appearance of pathological tau occurs in regions distant to the injury area that are connected synaptically, suggesting dissemination of tau aggregates. Overall, this work posits TBI as a risk factor for tauopathies through the induction of tau hyperphosphorylation and aggregation.

Keywords: Alzheimer disease; chronic traumatic encephalopathy; risk factor; tau aggregation; traumatic brain injury.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic / metabolism
  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic / pathology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Protein Aggregation, Pathological / metabolism
  • Protein Aggregation, Pathological / pathology*
  • tau Proteins / metabolism*


  • tau Proteins