Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation





First Advisor

Dr. Jose F. Abisambra

Second Advisor

Dr. Kathryn E. Saatman


Tauopathies are a group of neurodegenerative diseases characterized by the abnormal deposition of the protein tau, a microtubule stabilizing protein. Under normal physiological conditions tau is a highly soluble protein that is not prone to aggregation. In disease states alterations to tau lead to enhanced fibril formation and aggregation, eventually forming neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs). The exact cause for NFT deposition is unknown, but increased post-translational modifications and mutations to the tau gene can increase tangle formation.

Tauopathic brains are stuck in a detrimental cycle, with cellular dysfunction contributing to the development of tau pathology and the development of tau pathology contributing to cellular dysfunction. The exact mechanisms by which each part of the cycle contributes to the other are still being explored. To investigate the unique contributions of each part of this cycle we utilized two separate models of tauopathy: one chronic and one acute. Overall this project provides novel insight into the role of pathological tau as both a cause, and a consequence, of cellular dysfunction.

To understand how development of tau pathology contributes to cellular dysfunction we studied chronic disease models. Using human brain tissue we found that under normal conditions tau associates with ribosomes but that this interaction is enhanced in Alzheimer’s disease brains. We then used in vitro and in vivo models of tauopathy to show that this association causes a decrease in protein synthesis. Finally, we show that wild type tau and mutant tau reduce protein translation to similar levels.

To understand how general cellular dysfunction contributes to development of pathology we used an acute model of tauopathy through traumatic brain injury (TBI). We injured rTg4510 tau transgenic mice at different ages to investigate the effect of TBI on tau fibrillization (2 month old) and the effect of TBI on tau already in NFTs (4.5 month old). In 2 month old mice, we found that tau hyperphosphorylation was decreased at 24 hours and increased at 7 days post injury, and that tau oligomerization was decreased at 24 hours post injury. We also found that tau fibrillization was not increased after 24 hours or 7 days post injury. In 4.5 month old mice, we found that TBI did not increase or decrease tangle counts in the brain, but we did qualitatively observe decreased variability within groups.

Overall these studies contribute novel understanding of tau’s role in different disease states. We identified a functional consequence of the interaction between tau and ribosomes, and demonstrated that a single head impact did not increase tau fibril formation within 7 days of injury. While human diseases associated with TBI show neurofibrillary tangle deposition, we have yet to recreate that aspect of the disease in research models of TBI. Our findings support the need for further investigation into the nuances of tau in disease, especially following TBI.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

NIH T32 AG057461

Included in

Neurosciences Commons