Neurology Today: Elevated plasma tau predicts stroke risk over and above other factors

Posted on: Thursday, August 8th, 2019

By Richard Robinson

ARTICLE IN BRIEF:In blood samples from participants in the longitudinal Framingham Heart Study, researchers applied a highly sensitive test for total tau and found that those with higher levels had an increased risk for stroke.

Elevation of tau in the bloodstream is an independent risk factor for stroke, according to a study in the July 4 online issue of Annals of Neurology.The finding provides a new biomarker for assessing stroke risk and supports the idea that subclinical vascular damage causes neuronal injury.

“This is a very nice paper that expands our knowledge about the overlap of markers of neurodegenerative and vascular mechanisms of brain disease,” commented Mitchell S. Elkind, MD, FAAN, professor of neurology and epidemiology at Columbia University, who was not involved in the study.

The new finding is the most recent result to come from the Framingham Heart Study, the pioneering longitudinal study of health and disease in a community west of Boston. Previous work from the study helped lead to an understanding of many of the major stroke risk factors, including hypertension, diabetes, smoking, and cholesterol, and the to the development of the Framingham Stroke Risk Profile, which combines these many risk factors to provide a 10-year stroke probability.

As part of the ongoing study, participants donate blood specimens, which can be unfrozen and analyzed anew as new tests become available. Recently, a highly sensitive test for total tau (t-tau) in plasma has been developed, which Sudha Seshadri, M.D., FAAN, and colleagues used to show earlier this year that elevated plasma t-tau was a biomarker for dementia risk. [The study finding was reported in the April 18 issue of Neurology Today.]

In the new study, working again with colleagues from the Florey Institute for Neuroscience and Mental Health in Melbourne, Australia, and Boston University, Dr. Seshadri used the test to ask whether that same elevation also predicted an increased risk of stroke.

Dr. Seshadri is a senior investigator for the Framingham Heart Study, founding director of the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases at UT Health San Antonio, and is professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine.

In her previous study, Dr. Seshadri found that elevated plasma t-tau was associated with microinfarcts at autopsy, “so we suspected that tau might be increased in those most at risk for stroke,” she said.

To read the full article, visit Neurology Today.

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