Synaptic Loss in Primary Tauopathies Revealed by [ 11 C]UCB-J Positron Emission Tomography

Mov Disord. 2020 Oct;35(10):1834-1842. doi: 10.1002/mds.28188. Epub 2020 Jul 11.


Background: Synaptic loss is a prominent and early feature of many neurodegenerative diseases.

Objectives: We tested the hypothesis that synaptic density is reduced in the primary tauopathies of progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) (Richardson's syndrome) and amyloid-negative corticobasal syndrome (CBS).

Methods: Forty-four participants (15 CBS, 14 PSP, and 15 age-/sex-/education-matched controls) underwent PET with the radioligand [11 C]UCB-J, which binds to synaptic vesicle glycoprotein 2A, a marker of synaptic density; participants also had 3 Tesla MRI and clinical and neuropsychological assessment.

Results: Nine CBS patients had negative amyloid biomarkers determined by [11 C]PiB PET and hence were deemed likely to have corticobasal degeneration (CBD). Patients with PSP-Richardson's syndrome and amyloid-negative CBS were impaired in executive, memory, and visuospatial tasks. [11 C]UCB-J binding was reduced across frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital lobes, cingulate, hippocampus, insula, amygdala, and subcortical structures in both PSP and CBD patients compared to controls (P < 0.01), with median reductions up to 50%, consistent with postmortem data. Reductions of 20% to 30% were widespread even in areas of the brain with minimal atrophy. There was a negative correlation between global [11 C]UCB-J binding and the PSP and CBD rating scales (R = -0.61, P < 0.002; R = -0.72, P < 0.001, respectively) and a positive correlation with the revised Addenbrooke's Cognitive Examination (R = 0.52; P = 0.01).

Conclusions: We confirm severe synaptic loss in PSP and CBD in proportion to disease severity, providing critical insight into the pathophysiology of primary degenerative tauopathies. [11 C]UCB-J may facilitate treatment strategies for disease-modification, synaptic maintenance, or restoration. © 2020 The Authors. Movement Disorders published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society.

Keywords: PSP/CBS; [11C]UCB-J PET; synaptic vesicle protein 2A; tauopathy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't