Tau is a protein that normally functions to support nerve cell structure and help transport nutrients. In Alzheimer's disease, tau becomes abnormally modified and can accumulate into tau tangles in the brain, one of the hallmarks of the disease. Recently, scientists have discovered that abnormal tau can move from one nerve cell to another, suggesting this may be a mechanism by which changes associated with Alzheimer's progress across different brain regions. Previous studies have shown that proteins on the surface of nerve cells known as heparan sulfate proteoglycans (HSPGs) may be involved in the formation of amyloid plaques in the brain – another hallmark of Alzheimer's disease. Preliminary data suggests that HSPGs on nerve cells also contribute to the movement of abnormal tau throughout the brain, but more research is needed to understand this process.
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- Alzheimer's Association