Background: Obstructive sleep apnea, characterized by sleep fragmentation and chronic intermittent hypoxia (CIH), is a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease (AD) progression. Recent epidemiological studies point to CIH as the best predictor of developing cognitive decline and AD in older adults with obstructive sleep apnea. However, the precise underlying mechanisms remain unknown. This study was undertaken to evaluate the effect of CIH on pathological human tau seeding, propagation, and accumulation; cognition; synaptic plasticity; neuronal network excitability; and gene expression profiles in a P301S human mutant tau mouse model of AD and related tauopathies.
Methods: We exposed 4- to 4.5-month-old male P301S and wild-type mice to an 8-week CIH protocol (6-min cycle: 21% O2 to 8% O2 to 21% O2, 80 cycles per 8 hours during daytime) and assessed its effect on tau pathology and various AD-related phenotypic and molecular signatures. Age- and sex-matched P301S and wild-type mice were reared in normoxia (21% O2) as experimental controls.
Results: CIH significantly enhanced pathological human tau seeding and spread across connected brain circuitry in P301S mice; it also increased phosphorylated tau load. CIH also exacerbated memory and synaptic plasticity deficits in P301S mice. However, CIH had no effect on seizure susceptibility and network hyperexcitability in these mice. Finally, CIH exacerbated AD-related pathogenic molecular signaling in P301S mice.
Conclusions: CIH-induced increase in pathologic human tau seeding and spread and exacerbation of other AD-related impairments provide new insights into the role of CIH and obstructive sleep apnea in AD pathogenesis.
Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; Chronic intermittent hypoxia; Cognition; Molecular signatures; Synaptic plasticity; Tau.
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