The microtubule-associated protein tau plays an important role in tauopathic diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and primary tauopathies such as progressive supranuclear palsy and corticobasal degeneration. Tauopathy animal models, such as transgenic, knock-in mouse and rat models, recapitulating tauopathy have facilitated the understanding of disease mechanisms. Aberrant accumulation of hyperphosphorylated tau contributes to synaptic deficits, neuroinflammation, and neurodegeneration, leading to cognitive impairment in animal models. Recent advances in molecular imaging using positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have provided valuable insights into the time course of disease pathophysiology in tauopathy animal models. High-field MRI has been applied for in vivo imaging in animal models of tauopathy, including diffusion tensor imaging for white matter integrity, arterial spin labeling for cerebral blood flow, resting-state functional MRI for functional connectivity, volumetric MRI for neurodegeneration, and MR spectroscopy. In addition, MR contrast agents for non-invasive imaging of tau have been developed recently. Many preclinical MRI indicators offer excellent translational value and provide a blueprint for clinical MRI in the brains of patients with tauopathies. In this review, we summarized the recent advances in using MRI to visualize the pathophysiology of tauopathy in small animals. We discussed the outstanding challenges in brain imaging using MRI in small animals and propose a future outlook for visualizing tau-related alterations in the brains of animal models.
Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; FTD (frontotemporal dementia); animal model; magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); neurodegenaration; tau.
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