Synaptic loss in the primary tauopathies of Progressive Supranuclear Palsy and Corticobasal Degeneration


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In this thesis I address the debilitating symptom of cognitive dysfunction in the primary tauopathies of Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP) and Corticobasal Degeneration (CBD). Both PSP and CBD are associated with an accumulation of 4-repeat tau in cortical and subcortical areas. As well as movement disorders, they impair cognitive function, even where there is minimal atrophy. Neurophysiological studies have also identified electrophysiological changes associated with cognitive dysfunction, in areas without atrophy. I propose that synaptic loss prior to cell loss contributes to these effects of disease. Chapter two summarises my cohort and principal methods. I quantify synaptic density in vivo with dynamic [11C]UCB-J PET, and molecular pathology with [18F]AV1451 PET. Brain structural changes are quantified by MRI. Disease severity and cognition are assessed with the PSP rating scale, and neuropsychological tests. Patients with CBD are negative on amyloid-imaging ([11C]PiB PET) to exclude those with Alzheimer’s pathology. In chapter three, [11C]UCB-J PET reveals widespread loss of synapses in PSP and CBD including areas with minimal atrophy. The loss of synapses correlated with cognition and disease severity.
In chapter four, I test whether presynaptic changes (from [11C]UCB-J PET) are correlated with postsynaptic abnormalities (i.e. changes to postsynaptic dendritic microstructural integrity quantified by MRI using the Neurite Orientation and Dispersion Index, NODDI). In accordance with in vitro and animal models, I confirm that loss of dendritic complexity is tightly coupled with presynaptic density, over and above the effects of atrophy. In chapter five, I test the relationship between the molecular pathology in primary tauopathies (tau burden) and synaptic loss, using [18F]AV-1451 and [11C]UCB-J PET. The use of the “tau” ligand [18F]AV-1451 has become controversial in PSP. With due consideration to the caveats, I report that brain regions with a higher synaptic density have higher [18F]AV-1451 binding, consistent with the hypothesis of connectivity-based progression of tauopathy. I further show that accrual of pathology in any given area is associated with loss of synapses, consistent with synaptic injury from tauopathy. I conclude my thesis in chapter 6, by discussing and highlighting the importance of synaptic density in primary tauopathies. The findings are relevant to other neurodegenerative disorders, and support early interventional studies targeting synaptic maintenance and restoration.

Rowe, James
O'Brien, John
Synaptic Loss, Dementia, Movement Disorders, PET imaging
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
Patrick Berthoud Charitable Trust (via Charities Aid Foundation) (Unknown)
Association of British Neurologists - Patrick Berthoud Charitable Trust