Sex differences in Alzheimer's disease: do differences in tau explain the verbal memory gap?

Neurobiol Aging. 2021 Nov;107:70-77. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2021.05.013. Epub 2021 Jun 4.


To determine if sex differences in verbal memory in AD are related to differences in extent or distribution of pathological tau, we studied 275 participants who were amyloid PET positive and carried clinical classifications of normal cognition, mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or dementia, and had tau (AV1451) PET. We compared tau distribution between men and women, and as a function of genetic risk. In MCI we further explored the relationship between quantity and distribution of tau in relation to verbal memory scores. Women had more tau burden overall, but this was driven by sex differences at the MCI stage. There was no significant difference in tau load by APOE e4 status. Within the MCI group the association between tau and performance in verbal memory tasks was stronger in women than men. The topography of the associations between tau and verbal memory also differed in MCI; women demonstrated stronger relationships between tau distribution and verbal memory performance, especially in the left hemisphere. These findings have implications for understanding tau distribution and spread, and in interpretation of verbal memory performance.

Keywords: Alzheimer's; Sex differences; Tau; Verbal memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism*
  • Alzheimer Disease / psychology*
  • Apolipoproteins E / metabolism
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / metabolism
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Verbal Behavior / physiology*
  • tau Proteins / metabolism*


  • Apolipoproteins E
  • tau Proteins