Restoration of the 3R:4R Tau Equilibrium as an Alzheimer Therapy

Michael DeTure, PhD
Mayo Clinic Jacksonville (Jacksonville, FL, United States)
Year Awarded:
Grant Duration:
July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2013
Alzheimer's Disease
Award Amount:
Grant Reference ID:
Award Type:
Award Region:
US Southeastern
Michael DeTure, PhD

Restoration of the 3R:4R Tau Equilibrium as a Tauopathy Therapy


Tau polymerization into neurofibrillary tangles is a central pathological feature of Alzheimer's disease as the abundance of these lesions correlates positively with neuronal loss and cognitive decline in these patients. Tau based neurodegeneration may be caused directly by altering the normal equimolar 3R to 4R tau ratio; and indeed, different silent mutations in tau have been shown to lead to the preferential expression and accumulation of either 3R or 4R tau with resulting neuronal loss and cognitive decline in FTDP-17. Together these results suggest that therapeutic interventions aimed at returning the tau isoform ratios to their normal balance may benefit tauopathy patients including AD patients which also exhibit locally enriched 3R or 4R tau deposits.


Two hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease are plaques and tangles—protein deposits in the brain that can lead to nerve cell death and memory problems. Tangles are formed when a certain type of protein, called tau, becomes sticky and forms messy blobs inside of nerve cells. Dr. Michael DeTure and collaborators think that tangles are formed when the natural balance of two versions of tau tip to the sticky form, and that by setting the balance straight again they can prevent tangles from forming. In this project, they will genetically increase the expression levels of the non‐sticky form of tau in a mouse model of Alzheimer's. This should restore the balance of the ratios and perhaps prevent the tangles from forming. If they do find a way to restore the balance of tau expression, then this could be an exciting new treatment to block or reverse the formation of tangles in individuals with Alzheimer's disease.

Research Updates

This past year, in an effort to determine if restoring this equilibrium can slow the disease, Dr. DeTure’s team has constructed expression vectors for 3R and 4R tau protein. The team is preparing to determine if they can prevent or reverse disease caused by over-expression of 4R tau. This would provide the first direct evidence that restoring this delicate balance can ameliorate the disease, and it would represent a new point for therapeutic intervention in Alzheimer's disease.

About the Researcher

Dr. Michael DeTure is an assistant professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the Mayo Clinic campus in Jacksonville Florida. He completed his doctoral training at the University of Florida where he studied the assembly properties of tau proteins which cause neuronal loss in Alzheimer's disease. He did his post doctoral studies at the Mayo Clinic Jacksonville as a Smith Fellow in Neuroscience. There he examined the pathogenic effects of tau mutations on assembly and how these can be used to model Alzheimer pathology in cell culture systems and animal models. His current research at the Mayo Clinic is focused on further refinement of these models systems and how they can be used to develop therapeutic approaches that enhance the clearance of pathologic tau species and prevent their assembly.
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