July 31, 2017 / All Stories

Science Rocks! Tau: One Protein to Rule Them All

A protein gone awry, multiplying through the brain’s information superhighway, may help unlock the secrets of treating neurodegenerative diseases.

Science Rocks features AbbVie scientists who share interesting research in their field and why it matters. In this month's feature, Nuno Mendonca, medical director, international development, neuroscience, AbbVie, shares an article about a protein called tau, which may hold the secret to treating more than one neurodegenerative disease.

Unlike other cells, once neurons in the brain die they are not replaced. That’s why neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, are so devastating and incurable. As the disease progresses, patients lose abilities, skills and memories that never return.

Some scientists believe abnormal proteins cause neurodegenerative diseases. These abnormal proteins transform normal proteins into pathologic, damage-causing pathogens that spread like an out-of-control viral infection.

One of these proteins that goes awry is tau. In a normal brain, tau acts like scaffolding or a frame to help keep neurons in their proper formation. Abnormal tau, on the other hand, significantly impairs the brain’s communication system, leading to the collapse and death of neurons. The propagation of abnormal tau is a hallmark of some neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s which are collectively termed tauopathies.

This article suggests tau protein aggregates first in a small number of brain cells, from where they grow and move to other regions. Different molecular ‘strains’ of aggregated tau exist; and by growing and moving to different parts of the brain, they may give rise to different diseases. Most importantly, the different strains seem to spread in the same way.

Why does this matter? Well, since the same pathophysiological mechanism of growing and moving appears to be common to all of these tauopathies, a successful treatment for one disease (for example Progressive Supranuclear Palsy) could also help treat other tau diseases (for example Alzheimer’s).

In other words, if researchers can understand and treat one disease, it could open the door to treating several other different diseases that have the same underlying cause.

Fun Facts About Me

  • I am Portuguese and am a big fan of Mediterranean food. Although I live and work in Germany, I still bring olive oil from my parent’s’ farm every time I go home.
  • Reading is one of my favorite hobbies. I was born on April 23 – which is the same day William Shakespeare was born and died.
  • You can travel through all of Western and Eastern Europe by train and I have done this twice, all the way from Lisbon to Istanbul.
  • The medical university I attended dates back to 1290 and is one of the oldest universities in the world.


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Jaquelin Finley
Email: Jaquelin.finley@abbvie.com
Call: +1 847-937-4111
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