What Is Tau and Its Role in Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy?

Tau is a microtubule-associated protein. It lines up on the inside of the nerve cell and stabilizes the nerve cell. It's important for regulating the nerve cell. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is a neurodegenerative disorder, so it's a disease where the brain starts to deteriorate, and as it deteriorates it builds up huge amounts of this protein in the form of what's called neurofibrillary tangle. So they're inclusions inside nerve cells, and they look sort of like skeins of yarn or like tangles. That's why their name is that. In CTE, you see tangles, these tau-containing tangles, in a very unique pattern throughout the brain. There are other diseases that have tau protein, like Alzheimer's disease, or even some other diseases, but not in this pattern. This is a very unique and distinctive pattern.

Tau protein shows up in the brain in other neurodegenerative diseases, but only in this unique, tangled pattern in CTE.

See all videos interviews with Dr. Ann McKee.

Posted on BrainLine December 10, 2010.

Produced by Noel Gunther and Brian King, BrainLine.

Comments (5)

Are there any tests or labs that can show Tau in the living? I was in a car accident 14 years ago, and was in an abusive relationship. The accident. I was crushed under a building, my skull crushed, in a coma for 7 days. 5 years ago I started feeling my brain was cloudy. It has only progressed. I’m now at the point where I can’t function. My moods, no balance, can’t concentrate or focus or remember. I’m pretty sure this is the start of CTE, from the TBI. Just looking for help. I’d like to be myself again.

I have written before and I have a big dilemma. My 59-year-old son has been disabled for about thirty years. His father passed away from Chromosome 17 Disinhibition, Dementia, Parkinsonian, Amyotrophy Complex (17-DDPAC) at age 45 after many years of progressing disability. The inheritance has proven to be 50% and involves tau tangles and progranulin.

However about ten years ago my son, John, was told by a prominent research doctor that he didn't have a tau or progranulin disorder and was fine. Of course, that is not the case. John played high school football and took some terrible hits. In one case he was knocked out for five minutes and I, not being at the game, was never told. Is there a way to tell if a person does truly have 17 DDPAC or the effects of concussions?

Congratulations on your great work.

U r right that there r no studies involving women. I also want to donate my brain. I will wait with u for the answer.

I am a 62 yr old female! I have had more than 10 but less than 20 concussions in my life so far - it makes me wonder why only male NFL Players are being studied!

I would like to donate my Brain (only) to be studied I die! I have daily migraines, insomnia, and some anger mngmnt issues!