An article published by Stahlberg and Riek in Nature September 2021 establishes that high resolution structures of previously uncharacterised strains of tau fibril purified from the postmortem brains of individuals with various neurodegenerative diseases could be used to establish a disease classification which is based on the tau fibril structure.
The protein tau contributes to the normal functioning of cells in the brain by adopting a specific structural conformation and stabilising microtubules, which are protein filaments that act like railroads to enable various materials to be transported through the cell.
However, in Alzheimer’s disease and related diseases called tauopathies, misfolded tau molecules stick together in a manner similar to a one dimensional crystal, and form needle shaped fibrils around 1 μm long.
Although all types of tau fibrils are composed of tau molecules, these fibrils can occur in different 3D structures known as polymers.
This study showed that these high resolution structures of previously uncharacterised strains of tau fibrils that were purified from the postmortem brains of individuals with various neurodegenerative diseases could establish a disease classification based on tau fibril structure.
Dr Paul Ettlinger
BM, DRCOG, FRCGP, FRIPH, DOccMed