Dendritic spines are lost in clusters in Alzheimer's disease

Sci Rep. 2021 Jun 11;11(1):12350. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-91726-x.


Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder characterized by a deterioration of neuronal connectivity. The pathological accumulation of tau in neurons is one of the hallmarks of AD and has been connected to the loss of dendritic spines of pyramidal cells, which are the major targets of cortical excitatory synapses and key elements in memory storage. However, the detailed mechanisms underlying the loss of dendritic spines in individuals with AD are still unclear. Here, we used graph-theory approaches to compare the distribution of dendritic spines from neurons with and without tau pathology of AD individuals. We found that the presence of tau pathology determines the loss of dendritic spines in clusters, ruling out alternative models where spine loss occurs at random locations. Since memory storage has been associated with synaptic clusters, the present results provide a new insight into the mechanisms by which tau drives synaptic damage in AD, paving the way to memory deficits through alterations of spine organization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology*
  • Dendritic Spines / metabolism
  • Dendritic Spines / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • tau Proteins / metabolism


  • MAPT protein, human
  • tau Proteins