Cell‑specifc MAPT gene expression is preserved in neuronal and glial tau cytopathologies in progressive supranuclear palsy
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Abstract: Microtubule-associated protein tau (MAPT) aggregates in neurons, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes in a number of neurodegenerative diseases, including progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP). Tau is a target of therapy and the strategy includes either the elimination of pathological tau aggregates or reducing MAPT expression, and thus the amount of tau protein made to prevent its aggregation. Disease-associated tau afects brain regions in a sequential manner that includes cell-to-cell spreading. Involvement of glial cells that show tau aggregates is interpreted as glial cells taking up misfolded tau assuming that glial cells do not express enough MAPT. Although studies have evaluated MAPT expression in human brain tissue homogenates, it is not clear whether MAPT expression is compromised in cells accumulating pathological tau. To address these perplexing aspects of disease pathogenesis, this study used RNAscope combined with immunofuorescence (AT8), and single-nuclear(sn) RNAseq to systematically map and quantify MAPT expression dynamics across diferent cell types and brain regions in controls (n=3) and evaluated whether tau cytopathology afects MAPT expression in PSP (n=3). MAPT transcripts were detected in neurons, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes, and varied between brain regions and within each cell type, and were preserved in all cell types with tau aggregates in PSP. These results propose a complex scenario in all cell types, where, in addition to the ingested misfolded tau, the preserved cellular MAPT expression provides a pool for local protein production that can (1) be phosphorylated and aggregated, or (2) feed the seeding of ingested misfolded tau by providing physiological tau, both accentuating the pathological process. Since tau cytopathology does not compromise MAPT gene expression in PSP, a complete loss of tau protein expression as an early pathogenic component is less likely. These observations provide rationale for a dual approach to therapy by decreasing cellular MAPT expression and targeting removal of misfolded tau.