Early alterations of neurovascular unit in the retina in mouse models of tauopathy

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11 Scopus citations


The retina, as the only visually accessible tissue in the central nervous system, has attracted significant attention for evaluating it as a biomarker for neurodegenerative diseases. Yet, most of studies focus on characterizing the loss of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) and degeneration of their axons. There is no integrated analysis addressing temporal alterations of different retinal cells in the neurovascular unit (NVU) in particular retinal vessels. Here we assessed NVU changes in two mouse models of tauopathy, P301S and P301L transgenic mice overexpressing the human tau mutated gene, and evaluated the therapeutic effects of a tau oligomer monoclonal antibody (TOMA). We found that retinal edema and breakdown of blood–retina barrier were observed at the very early stage of tauopathy. Leukocyte adhesion/infiltration, and microglial recruitment/activation were constantly increased in the retinal ganglion cell layer of tau transgenic mice at different ages, while Müller cell gliosis was only detected in relatively older tau mice. Concomitantly, the number and function of RGCs progressively decreased during aging although they were not considerably altered in the very early stage of tauopathy. Moreover, intrinsically photosensitive RGCs appeared more sensitive to tauopathy. Remarkably, TOMA treatment in young tau transgenic mice significantly attenuated vascular leakage, inflammation and RGC loss. Our data provide compelling evidence that abnormal tau accumulation can lead to pathology in the retinal NVU, and vascular alterations occur more manifest and earlier than neurodegeneration in the retina. Oligomeric tau-targeted immunotherapy has the potential to treat tau-induced retinopathies. These data suggest that retinal NVU may serve as a potential biomarker for diagnosis and staging of tauopathy as well as a platform to study the molecular mechanisms of neurodegeneration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number51
JournalActa Neuropathologica Communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Leukocyte adhesion/infiltration
  • Microglial recruitment/activation
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Neurovascular unit
  • Retina
  • Tau oligomer monoclonal antibody
  • Tauopathy
  • Vascular leakage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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