Aβ/tau oligomer interplay at human synapses supports shifting therapeutic targets for Alzheimer’s disease

Michela Marcatti, Anna Fracassi, Mauro Montalbano, Chandramouli Natarajan, Balaji Krishnan, Rakez Kayed, Giulio Taglialatela

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Background: Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is characterized by progressive cognitive decline due to accumulating synaptic insults by toxic oligomers of amyloid beta (AβO) and tau (TauO). There is growing consensus that preventing these oligomers from interacting with synapses might be an effective approach to treat AD. However, recent clinical trial failures suggest low effectiveness of targeting Aβ in late-stage AD. Researchers have redirected their attention toward TauO as the levels of this species increase later in disease pathogenesis. Here we show that AβO and TauO differentially target synapses and affect each other's binding dynamics. Methods: Binding of labeled, pre-formed Aβ and tau oligomers onto synaptosomes isolated from the hippocampus and frontal cortex of mouse and postmortem cognitively intact elderly human brains was evaluated using flow-cytometry and western blot analyses. Binding of labeled, pre-formed Aβ and tau oligomers onto mouse primary neurons was assessed using immunofluorescence assay. The synaptic dysfunction was measured by fluorescence analysis of single-synapse long-term potentiation (FASS-LTP) assay. Results: We demonstrated that higher TauO concentrations effectively outcompete AβO and become the prevailing synaptic-associated species. Conversely, high concentrations of AβO facilitate synaptic TauO recruitment. Immunofluorescence analyses of mouse primary cortical neurons confirmed differential synaptic binding dynamics of AβO and TauO. Moreover, in vivo experiments using old 3xTgAD mice ICV injected with either AβO or TauO fully supported these findings. Consistent with these observations, FASS-LTP analyses demonstrated that TauO-induced suppression of chemical LTP was exacerbated by AβO. Finally, predigestion with proteinase K abolished the ability of TauO to compete off AβO without affecting the ability of high AβO levels to increase synaptic TauO recruitment. Thus, unlike AβO, TauO effects on synaptosomes are hampered by the absence of protein substrate in the membrane. Conclusions: These results introduce the concept that TauO become the main synaptotoxic species at late AD, thus supporting the hypothesis that TauO may be the most effective therapeutic target for clinically manifest AD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number222
JournalCellular and Molecular Life Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • Amyloid
  • Dementia
  • Synaptic binding
  • Synaptosomes
  • Tau

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Molecular Biology
  • Pharmacology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Cell Biology


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