The pathological aggregation and accumulation of tau, a microtubule-associated protein, is a common feature amongst more than 18 different neurodegenerative diseases that are collectively known as tauopathies. Recently, it has been demonstrated that the soluble and hydrophobic tau oligomers are highly toxic in vitro due to their capacity towards seeding tau misfolding, thereby propagating the tau pathology seen across different neurodegenerative diseases. Modulating the aggregation state of tau oligomers through the use of small molecules could be a useful therapeutic strategy to target their toxicity, regardless of other factors involved in their formation. In this study, we screened and tested a small library of newly synthesized curcumin derivatives against preformed recombinant tau oligomers. Our results show that the curcumin derivatives affect and modulate the tau oligomer aggregation pathways, converting to a more aggregated non-toxic state as assessed in the human neuroblastoma SH-SY5Y cell line and primary cortical neuron cultures. These results provide insight into tau aggregation and may become a basis for the discovery of new therapeutic agents, as well as advance the diagnostic field for the detection of toxic tau oligomers.
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