Granulovacuolar degeneration bodies are independently induced by tau and α-synuclein pathology

Alzheimers Res Ther. 2022 Dec 14;14(1):187. doi: 10.1186/s13195-022-01128-y.


Background: Granulovacuolar degeneration bodies (GVBs) are intracellular vesicular structures that commonly accompany pathological tau accumulations in neurons of patients with tauopathies. Recently, we developed the first model for GVBs in primary neurons, that requires exogenous tau seeds to elicit tau aggregation. This model allowed the identification of GVBs as proteolytically active lysosomes induced by tau pathology. GVBs selectively accumulate cargo in a dense core, that shows differential and inconsistent immunopositivity for (phosphorylated) tau epitopes. Despite the strong evidence connecting GVBs to tau pathology, these structures have been reported in neurons without apparent pathology in brain tissue of tauopathy patients. Additionally, GVBs and putative GVBs have also been reported in the brain of patients with non-tau proteinopathies. Here, we investigated the connection between pathological protein assemblies and GVBs in more detail.

Methods: This study combined newly developed primary neuron models for tau and α-synuclein pathology with observations in human brain tissue from tauopathy and Parkinson's disease patients. Immunolabeling and imaging techniques were employed for extensive characterisation of pathological proteins and GVBs. Quantitative data were obtained by high-content automated microscopy as well as single-cell analysis of confocal images.

Results: Employing a novel seed-independent neuronal tau/GVB model, we show that in the context of tauopathy, GVBs are inseparably associated with the presence of cytosolic pathological tau and that intracellular tau aggregation precedes GVB formation, strengthening the causal relationship between pathological accumulation of tau and GVBs. We also report that GVBs are inseparably associated with pathological tau at the single-cell level in the hippocampus of tauopathy patients. Paradoxically, we demonstrate the presence of GVBs in the substantia nigra of Parkinson's disease patients and in a primary neuron model for α-synuclein pathology. GVBs in this newly developed α-synuclein/GVB model are induced in the absence of cytosolic pathological tau accumulations. GVBs in the context of tau or α-synuclein pathology showed similar immunoreactivity for different phosphorylated tau epitopes. The phosphorylated tau immunoreactivity signature of GVBs is therefore independent of the presence of cytosolic tau pathology.

Conclusion: Our data identify the emergence of GVBs as a more generalised response to cytosolic protein pathology.

Keywords: Granulovacuolar degeneration bodies; Tau pathology; α-synuclein pathology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Epitopes / genetics
  • Epitopes / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Nerve Degeneration / genetics
  • Nerve Degeneration / metabolism
  • Parkinson Disease* / genetics
  • Parkinson Disease* / metabolism
  • Parkinson Disease* / pathology
  • Tauopathies* / genetics
  • Tauopathies* / metabolism
  • Tauopathies* / pathology
  • alpha-Synuclein / genetics
  • alpha-Synuclein / metabolism
  • tau Proteins / genetics
  • tau Proteins / metabolism


  • alpha-Synuclein
  • Epitopes
  • tau Proteins
  • MAPT protein, human
  • SNCA protein, human