A distinction with a difference

Apathy and depression are among the most disabling non-motor features of PSP, and they’re not the same thing.  To quote the opening lines of an excellent 1998 paper from Morgan L. Levy and colleagues from UCLA, University of Iowa and the NIH,

“Apathy is defined as diminished motivation not attributable to decreased level of consciousness, cognitive impairment, or emotional distress.  Depression involves considerable emotional distress, evidenced by tearfulness, sadness, anxiety, agitation, insomnia, anorexia, feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, and recurrent thoughts of death.”

That article, entitled, “Apathy Is Not Depression,” focused on Alzheimer’s, frontotemporal dementia, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and PSP. It pointed out that while apathy is traditionally considered to be one of the many possible features of depression, it can also be analyzed separately.  So that’s what they did.  

They found that among their 22 patients with PSP, 77% had apathy without depression, 5% had depression without apathy, 14% had both and 5% had neither.  In the 154 patients overall, there was no correlation between apathy and depression. (Among the 22 with PSP, there were too few with depression to calculate the correlation specifically for that disease.)  Apathy was more common and severe in AD, FTD and PSP, while depression was more common and severe in PD and HD.  In the overall group, apathy was associated with disinhibition, but depression was associated with anxiety, agitation, irritability and hallucinations.

The prevalence of depression and apathy in PSP vary wildly across studies, depending on definitions and sources of patients.  For example, fast-forward to a December 2021 study from Sarah M. Bower and colleagues at Mayo Clinic Rochester.  In their 97 patients with PSP, depression was present in 55% and apathy in only 12%.  This proportion was roughly the same for each of the nine PSP subtypes evaluated except for PSP-speech/language, where depression was much less frequent.

Why should we care about the distinction between apathy and depression?  Because they’re both treatable and the treatments differ. Here’s a compilation of recommendations from experts at UCSF and from the CurePSP Centers of Care.  Keep in mind that these recommendations are generally based on experience and record reviews rather than on randomized trials.

  • Depression in PSP is typically treated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) (except for paroxetine because of its anticholinergic side effects), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) or bupropion.  Non-drug treatments include cognitive-behavior therapy, mindfulness yoga, professionally guided meditation, and in very severe cases, electroconvulsive therapy.

  • Apathy in PSP, on the other hand, is treated with one of the amphetamine-like drugs methylphenidate or modafinil, or sometimes an SNRI.  Apathy can be worsened by SSRIs.  Regular conditioning exercise is also useful.

So, add this to the long list of reasons why it’s so wrong for a doctor to tell someone with PSP, “Sorry, but there’s nothing I can do for you.”

PSP treatment trials recruiting now or soon

As promised, I will now start trying to keep you updated on actively recruiting clinical trials in PSP.  Keep in mind a few things before using my list:  

  • In compiling my list, I rely heavily on www.clinicaltrials.gov.  Trials in the US are required to list themselves there, but some take longer than others to comply.  Trials overseas may or not be required to have a listing on clinicaltrials.gov, depending on the country.  My list also includes trials I’ve heard about through the grapevine that are not (yet) listed.
  • In Phase 1 and sometimes in Phase 2, the trials do not typically allow patients completing the protocol to continue receiving the drug, no matter how well they were doing on it.  Later Phase 2 and Phase 3 trials often do allow this, but they do not commit to it in advance.  Typically, if the trial shows the drug to be ineffective (or unsafe) overall, the drug company will discontinue its program for that drug and stop producing it.  That means that even the few patients who might have been doing well on it will not continue to have access to it.
  • In theory, exceptions to that rule could exist for drugs that are being tested in both PSP and another disease such as Alzheimer’s.  If the PSP trial shows lack of efficacy but acceptable safety, the company will continue to manufacture the drug pending the outcome of the other trial and may make it available to those who completed the PSP trial.
  • For trials of neuroprotective treatment, patients may not know if they are benefitting.  (Definitions: “Neuroprotective” drugs are intended to slow the progression of the abnormal brain process in the long term, as opposed to helping the symptoms experienced by the patient in the short term.  For example, for infections, antibiotics are protective, while painkillers are symptomatic.)  To know if an individual in a neuroprotective trial has had slowing of their rate of worsening over the 12 months on the drug, their rate of worsening over at least a few months before the trial would have to have been quantitatively assessed using the same method that the trial used.  We almost never have that data, so trials work by comparing the average result from a group receiving the drug to the average from a group receiving a placebo.
  • Do not expect a neuroprotective drug to improve your symptoms.  At best, it could prevent worsening, and more likely would only slow the rate of worsening.  The trials are typically designed to detect a slowing of the rate of worsening of 30% or 40%. 
  • Bottom line: Participating in a clinical trial, especially one in Phase 1 or 2, requires some level of altruism.
  • For more information on these trials, go to www.clinicaltrials.gov and enter the drug’s name or ID number shown in the first column.

Here’s the current list to the best of my knowledge.  The ones at the bottom labeled as “may start” are awaiting funding in most cases.

Drug /
clinicaltrials.gov ID
SponsorPhaseMechanismLocation(s)Comments
TPN-101

NCT04993768
Transposon2aReduces tau productionBoca Raton, FL Farmington Hills, MI30 patients on drug, 10 on placebo
RT001 (di-deuterated linoleic acid ester)

NCT04937530
Retrotope2aReduces lipid peroxidation, enhancing mitochondrial activityUniversity of Munich (Germany)Non-controlled study showed very slow PSP progression over 2 years.
NIO-752

NCT04539041
Novartis1Anti-sense oligonucleotide; reduces tau productionRochester, MN; Nashville, TN; Montreal; 3 in Germany; 1 in UKRequires 4 injections into spinal space over 3 months.
AZP2006

NCT04008355
AlzProtect1Reduces tau production3 sites in France~24 patients on drug, ~12 on placebo
May start recruiting in the next year:
ASN120290Asceneuron1Reduces tau misfolding and aggregation by inhibiting O-GlcNAcase?Press release info only
MP201Mitochon1Mitochondrial decoupler?Early in planning per press release
Tolfenamic acidNeuroTau2NSAID that reduces tau productionCleveland Clinic, Las Vegas + others? 
Sodium selenateGov’t of Australia2Enhances dephosphoryl-ation of tau by protein phosphatase 2Multiple, in Australia 

clinicaltrials.now

My last two posts summarized the portions of the PSP Study Group’s October 4 meeting on imaging, markers and longitudinal observational studies.  This one’s on the current state of neuroprotective clinical trials.  The information is from presentations by Adam Boxer and Günter Höglinger and from informal contributions by other attendees.

First, some background

“Neuroprotective” means slowing or maybe halting the progression of the underlying disease process without improving the current symptoms or disability.  It is to be distinguished from “symptomatic” treatment, which only helps the symptoms or disability, typically transiently, while the underlying process continues. 

The four most recent failed neuroprotective treatments have been davunetide, a neurotrophic (i.e., neuron growth-promoting and repair) agent; tideglusib, a kinase inhibitor (that works by preventing abnormal attachment of phosphate groups to tau), tilavonemab and gosuranemab (both monoclonal antibodies directed against the “first,” or N-terminal, end of the tau molecule). None of these four slowed PSP progression as measured by the PSP Rating Scale or any other bedside test, although there’s controversial evidence that tideglusib slowed the progression of atrophy in relevant brain areas on MRI.  

Other hopeful PSP neuroprotective agents that have failed to work in double-blind trials in recent years.  These, in no particular order, are salsalate, an approved non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug that reduces tau phosphorylation; TPI-287, an anti-cancer drug that improves microtubule function; coenzyme Q-10, a nutraceutical that enhances mitochondrial energy production; Juvenon, an antioxidant; pyruvate, creatine and niacinamide, other antioxidants; riluzole, a drug with multiple mechanisms that is approved for neuroprotection in ALS, where its benefit is minimal; rasagiline, an inhibitor of monoamine oxidase-B, an enzyme that produces toxic free radicals from dopamine; lithium, an approved drug in psychiatry that reduces tau phosphorylation; valproate, an approved drug in psychiatry and for epilepsy that does the same; and methylene blue, an approved drug for multiple medical problems that inhibits tau aggregation.

Monoclonal antibodies

We don’t know why the antibodies have failed to date.  Maybe tau’s the N-terminal isn’t consistently present or accessible to antibodies in whatever form of tau is relevant to the spread of PSP through the brain.  Maybe the trials started too late in the course of the disease.  Maybe not enough of the antibody was able to cross the blood brain barrier, even though the tau content of the spinal fluid as measured in the lumbar space (not near the brain) was dramatically reduced.  Maybe tau is protected from antibodies as it moves between neurons by some sort of bubble-like or bridge-like membrane structure.  Maybe the cell-to-cell transmission of tau isn’t the most critical or rate-limiting step in the pathogenesis of PSP. 

A promising bit of support for N-terminal antibody treatment comes from three patients who participated in the gosuranemab trial’s site at the University of Pennsylvania who later died and were autopsied.  Their brains showed changes in the glial cells suggesting that the antibodies had incited a clear anti-tau reaction that was absent in untreated patients with PSP.  Although the neurofibrillary tangles and other visible, insoluble tau deposits were unchanged by the antibody, the authors of the paper (and I) conclude that maybe all that’s required for clinical efficacy is some tweaking to the antibody, to its dosage, to its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, or to the stage in the course of PSP when it’s given.               

Despite the failure of the two antibodies so far and our shortage of explanations, drug companies have continued to develop monoclonal antibodies against tau.  These are being tested (almost) exclusively in Alzheimer’s for the near future.  Zagotenemab (LY3303560, from Lilly) and semorinemab (RO7105705, from Roche) are both directed against tau’s N-terminal.  BIIB076 (from Biogen) and JNJ-63733657 (from Johnson & Johnson) are directed against tau phosphorylated at position 217.  Bepranemab (UCB0107 from UCB) and E2814 (from Eisai) target the mid-portion of tau.  Lu AF87908 (from Lundbeck) targets phosphorylated amino acid 396, near the C-terminal.  The lone PSP trial of any of these is a Phase 1b (i.e., double-blind but designed to test safety, not efficacy) trial of beprenamab at one center in Germany.  Even if the drug does well in that trial, further efforts are planned only for Alzheimer’s for the time being.

Anti-sense oligonucleotides

A Phase 1, double-blind trial of NIO752, an ASO from Novartis, is in progress at 7 sites in the US, 2 in the UK, 2 in Canada and 5 in Germany.  The 48 patients on active drug will be divided into three groups, each with a different dosage level, and 12 patients will receive placebo.  The lowest dosage level will start first and the next will start only if there is no immediate safety issue with the first. The drug must be given by intrathecal injection, which means directly into the spinal fluid by injection into the thecal sac at the base of the spine.  The procedure is identical to a diagnostic “spinal tap” except that that’s a fluid removal for diagnosis and this is a fluid administration for treatment.  This will be performed 4 times at 1-month intervals followed by another 3 months of observation.  More info is here.

ASOs are short strands of RNA with multiple mechanisms of action, each at a different step in the process of translating information from the MAPT (microtubule-associated protein tau) gene into the tau protein.  Many experts feel that this approach, being far “upstream” in the pathogenetic process, is the most promising of the current neuroprotective ideas for the tauopathies.  Obviously, the issues of safety and convenience of monthly spinal taps are potential obstacles.  ASO neuroprotection against Huntington’s disease, where the aggregating protein is “huntingtin,” was reported in June 2021 to have failed, but so little is known of the mechanisms of ASOs that this is not necessarily bad news for the tauopathies.

OGA inhibitors

To self-plagiarize from a 2015 post, a class of experimental drugs for the tauopathies “reduce tau aggregation by inhibiting OGA (O-GlcNAcase; pronounced “oh-GLIK-na-kaze”). That enzyme removes the sugar N-acetyl-beta-D-glucosamine from either serine or threonine residues [amino acids] of proteins. The opposing reaction, catalyzed by O-GlcNAc transferase, like other post-translational modifications, is a common way for cells to regulate proteins. In the case of tau, having that sugar in place reduces aggregation.”  Got all that? A major plus for the OGA inhibitors is that they, like most enzyme-inhibiting drugs, are small molecules, which means they can be taken orally.

Trials of OGA inhibitors for PSP have not yet begun and there’s no clue in the grapevine as to when that might happen.  But a first-in-human study of ASN-51 (from Asceneuron) in 40 patients with Alzheimer’s is under way in Australia. 

My sources tell me that Merck has another OGA inhibitor that has not yet started clinical testing.  It’s not even listed as a pre-clinical candidate in the latest revision of Merck’s publicly available, on-line pipeline info, which was last updated on July 27, 2021.

Although salsalate failed to slow PSP progression, another approved non-steroidal anti-inflammatory called tolfenamic acid reduces tau production. A single-center, Phase 2a trial had planned to start enrolling 24 patients with PSP at the Cleveland Clinic in Las Vegas in early 2021, but the trial start is delayed indefinitely.  The drug is available by prescription for migraine in the UK and some other countries but not in the US. 

Finally, AZP2006 (from AlzProtect) activates secretion of progranulin in the brain, reducing inflammation, and also has an independent action as a tau anti-aggregant.  It is given as an oral solution.  A Phase 1 trial in progress at three centers in France and a Phase 2 trial at the same three sites is planned.

For more technical details on neuroprotection (and symptomatic treatment) in PSP, see the excellent recent review by Lawren VandeVrede and colleagues from UCSF.

Our CurePSP Centers of Care review is mostly on symptomatic PSP treatment but includes a section on neuroprotection.

A how-to guide for doctors

Educating health care providers about PSP and CBD has long been a goal of mine and of CurePSP.  Most of my patients relate unfortunate stories of bothersome or even disabling symptoms for years before any physician suspected the correct diagnosis.  During those years, they may have endured futile, expensive, and potentially harmful diagnostic tests and treatments.  Even after PSP or CBD is correctly diagnosed, attempts to manage the symptoms are often unsupported by evidence, prescribed at an inappropriate dosage, or continued after any benefit has disappeared — while their side effects continue.

All too often, the neurologist tersely informs the patient that no treatment is available for PSP or CBD and that they should just go home, do the best they can and maybe get some physical therapy.  While it’s true that there’s no “specific” treatment or way to slow the underlying disease process, there are treatments that ease most of the symptoms as symptoms.  This is called “palliative” or “symptomatic” management and it’s up to the neurologist and other clinicians to understand and offer it.

These management measures are not unique to PSP or CBD – they are standard drugs and therapies used for symptoms regardless of their underlying cause.  Having said that, it’s also true that patients with PSP may differ from others in their reactions to common medications. 

You may recall that in 2018 a brief single-author book appeared that described management of PSP for clinicians.  For better or worse, the author (that would be me) relied heavily on his own experience, his own reading of the literature and his own philosophical point of view to recommend diagnostic and therapeutic approaches.  That was great as far as it went, but it didn’t reach much of an audience.  The book’s cover price — $75 for the paperback or digital editions – deterred many, and the publisher didn’t advertise it at all.

But now we have a new resource – the CurePSP Centers of Care.  In 2017, when CurePSP organized this network of highly-qualified academic centers in the US and Canada, the mission was to have a list of geographically well-distributed centers providing first-rate care for PSP and CBD.  The network has now grown to 30 sites with plans for 10 more in the next few years.  But besides providing care, the CoC’s are also uniquely positioned to work collaboratively to improve care.  

So in 2019, I and the other three members of the CoC Steering Committee (Drs. Irene Litvan, Brent Bluett and Alexander Pantelyat) organized the other 21 (at the time) CoC site directors to write a “best practices” document on the symptomatic management of PSP and CBD.  We divided the topic into 12 section and for each, created a writing committee from the list of site directors and any institutional colleagues whom they chose to recruit as collaborators.  Each committee submitted a 2- or 3-page draft that the Steering Committee edited and stitched together into a coherent article.  We returned that to the whole group so that every co-author could have some input into the whole document and then submitted the result for publication.

We chose Frontiers in Neurology, an “open-access,” on-line journal, meaning that viewing and downloading articles does not require a subscription or a per-article fee.  Such journals cover their expenses by having advertising and by charging a fee to the authors; in our case CurePSP paid the $2,950 bill.

Here’s the link to the article and here’s the URL: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fneur.2021.694872/full

Please consider sending the link (or a hard copy) to any clinician you know who takes care of people with PSP or CBD.  That’s not only neurologists, but also primary care physicians and nurse practitioners, ophthalmologists, optometrists, rehabilitation medicine specialists, neuropsychologists, physical therapists, speech/swallowing therapists, and occupational therapists.  Maybe keep a copy in your “go-bag” to provide to your doctors and nurses in a hospital or emergency room.  CurePSP will soon start a North America-wide campaign to distribute the link along with a series of videos of experts discussing and enlarging on points raised in the publication.

I think the authors of the paper did a great job, if I do say so myself.  But now begins the real work of broadcasting our advice so that clinicians can be competent and comfortable taking care of people with PSP and CBD.

He said he was just going out to buy cigarettes . . .

Yeah, yeah.  I know I haven’t posted anything in the past two years other than responses to questions.  No, I don’t know why.  But those who stray can be redeemed, I’m told.  So here’s the first installment of a quick and dirty summary of most of the important news in the world of PSP from 2018 and 2019:

I’ve mentioned with breathless hope the two large trials of monoclonal antibodies directed against the tau protein, one sponsored by Biogen, the other by AbbVie.  Both were designed to detect slowing of the progressive decline in function as measured by the PSP Rating Scale.  Bad news.  Back in July 2019, AbbVie ended its study prematurely after an interim analysis showed no benefit and that continuing the study would be futile.  Biogen completed its study in October and announced in early December that its results were no better than AbbVie’s.  In each case, there were no important adverse effects.  But each company is continuing development of its respective antibody for Alzheimer’s disease.  Those results won’t be available for a few years.

But there’s still hope for anti-tau antibodies in PSP.  Both the Biogen and the AbbVie antibodies were designed to recognize the “N terminal,” so-called because of its unattached amino group, which is based on nitrogen.  (The other end is called the “C terminal” because of its unattached acid group, which is based on carbon.)  But other drug companies are developing antibodies targeting other parts of the tau molecule, and they haven’t announced any intention to abandon those programs.  Next out of the gate will be the big Belgian company UCB, whose antibody targets the “microtubule-binding domain” of the tau molecule, which is much closer to the C terminal.  Its Phase 1 trial has started at selected centers in Europe and in the works is a larger, Phase 3 trial that will include sites in the US.  Still other anti-tau antibodies are being tested in Alzheimer’s by Lilly, Roche/Genentech and Johnson & Johnson, and there’s no reason to think that those antibodies couldn’t work just as well against PSP.

Other treatment ideas are approaching clinical trials as well.  The closest are the “OGA inhibitors,” which I described in a 2017 post.  Three companies are working on those: Asceneuron, Merck, and Lilly, though the last is just targeting Alzheimer’s so far.  I hope that Asceneuron’s trials will start in 2020, though my PSP treatment hopes have been dashed before. Also on deck are the “anti-sense oligonucleotides,” or ASOs, which prevent the tau molecule from being manufactured in the first place.  Such drugs are already on the market for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, spinal muscular atrophy and hereditary transthyretin amyloidosis, each of which affects the muscles or nerves rather than the brain and are not tau disorders.

You’ll recall that a new set of diagnostic criteria for PSP was published in 2017.  It’s called the MDS-PSP Criteria after the Movement Disorder Society (now renamed the “International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society” for obscure reasons), which sponsored the project.  New criteria were necessary to recognize early stages of PSP, when enrollment in treatment trials (and later, in treatment) would be most advantageous, and also to recognize the recently-described PSP subtypes.  In the past two years, a few studies have validated the criteria to some extent by comparing autopsy results with how closely patients satisfied the criteria during life.  Just last month, researchers in the UK found that applying the new criteria allowed them to expand their population with PSP by 74%.  The new patients were those with the “atypical” forms of PSP that went unacknowledged by the older criteria published in 1996.  The thing is, most of the “atypical” PSP patients will evolve to also satisfy the criteria for typical PSP, which we call PSP-Richardson syndrome, or PSP-RS.  So they would eventually have been recognized as PSP, but usually after years of erroneous diagnoses, unnecessary tests and futile, expensive and inconvenient treatments.

Quite enough for now.  I’ll continue these updates more faithfully, only next time it will get more technical.  Careful what you wish for.

PSP treatments in or near human trials

When a patient or caregiver asks me if anything can be done for PSP aside from palliative measures, my ready answer is that there’s a lot of research now into specific treatments that might slow or halt disease progression. I never have time to get into details in the time available, so I’m not sure my assurance is credible. So, putting my keyboard where my mouth is, here is a pretty thorough list of treatments that are in human trials for PSP or will enter such trials this year:

Anti-tau antibodies: BMS-986168 (Phase 1), C2N-8E12 (Phase 1). Both are in early stages of recruitment at multiple North American sites. The rationale is to bind and destroy abnormal tau en route between brain cells. (Disclosure: I’m a consultant to Bristol-Myers Squibb and a site investigator .) Other drug companies and academic labs are also working on anti-tau antibodies, but at an earlier stage.

Tau anti-aggregants: Leucomethylthioninium (LMTX). This is a derivative of methylene blue in Phase III for Alzheimer’s and frontotemporal dementia; If successful, PSP could be next. But beware the hype that has accompanied methylene blue and its derivatives.  The results from earlier-phase trials have not been published, which is curious.

Microtubule stabilizer: TPI-287 (Phase I). This is closely related to the taxane group of cancer drugs. In cancer, stabilizing microtubules helps prevent cells from dividing. In the brain, it compensates for the loss of tau, which normally stabilizes microtubules as the cells’ transport and skeletal system.

Tau acetylation inhibitor: Salsalate (Phase 1); This is being tested at UCSF, UCLA and UCSD in an open-label “futility” design. In other words, the study will determine not if the drug works, but if it deserves to be tested further. The same drug is being tested for multiple other disorders and has long been on the market as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug.

Tau aggregation inhibitors: ASN-561, an O-GlcNAcase inhibitor. This will probably enter Phase I in 2016. It acts by promoting the attachment of a sugar molecule, N-acetyl glucosamine, to the tau protein, thereby inhibiting its aggregation. Such “OGA” inhibitors are also being tested for other conditions, including cancer.

Anti-sense oligonucleotides: These are RNA molecules designed to inhibit the production of 4-repeat tau, which is over-produced in PSP relative to 3-repeat tau. That imbalance could be contributing to tau aggregation. These have not reached human trials.

Anti-microglial agent: FK506 reduces the activity of microglia, inflammatory cells in the CNS. Evidence is increasing that such inflammation is a cause, rather than an effect, of cell loss in many of the neurodegenerative diseases. In fact, several immune-response-related genes were among the top 10 “hits” in the 2011 study of genetic risk factors in PSP.

Young plasma: Only in 10 patients, non-controlled and only at UCSF, this study will give plasma from healthy men younger than 30 to patients with PSP. The primary outcome issue is safety and tolerability, but efficacy measures will also be applied. Recruitment is under way. The theory is that some unknown blood-borne molecule in young people prevents them from developing PSP and could slow the process in someone with the disease.

Mitochondrial nutrient: Coenzyme Q-10 (Two small double-blind studies, one published and one unpublished) show similar modest improvement in PSP Rating Scale scores. This is a symptomatic treatment but the above items on this list are all potentially neuroprotective.

For more information on any of these, see http://www.clinicaltrials.gov.

Is PSP the route to not just Alzheimer’s but also Parkinson’s?

We’ve known for many years that Parkinson’s disease, which the textbooks call an α-synucleinopathy, has some aggregated tau as well. It appears that each of the two proteins, once misfolded, not only induces its own normal brethren to misfold, it also induces copies of the other to misfold.
The first demonstration of this synergistic misfolding and resulting aggregation came in a series of three papers between 2002 and 2004 from the lab of John Trojanowski and Virginia Lee at Penn. The first authors were John Duda, Bernard Giasson and Paul Kotzbauer. (Disclaimer: I was one of their co-authors on all three.)

Now, Julia Gerson, a grad student in the lab of Rakez Kayed at the University of Texas Galveston, has presented work at the Society for Neuroscience that harnesses that finding of a PD/tauopathy overlap for therapeutic purposes. (Another disclaimer: Kayed has a related grant from CurePSP, where I chair the grant review.)

Gerson and friends created antibodies directed at oligomeric tau, which is tau in small aggregates of maybe 20 or 30 molecules, which are still small enough to remain in solution in the cytoplasm and therefore invisible to light microscopy, unlike mature neurofibrillary tangles. They didn’t want to target normal, non-aggregated tau for fear of disrupting the normal function of that protein, which is to stabilize microtubules.

They injected those anti-tau antibodies into mice that had a copy of a variant of the human gene encoding α-synuclein. The variation was an G209A mutation, producing an A53T alteration in the resulting protein. This is the mutation that my colleagues and I found in 1997 as the cause of PD in a large Italian-American family with autosomal-dominant PD, a finding that first linked PD with α-synuclein. (That’s Disclaimer #3. You’re starting to see why I’m so interested in this new finding.)

The antibody protected the mice against the loss of dopaminergic neurons that the α-synuclein mutation caused in the untreated mutant mice. Mice that received antibody against normal tau did even more poorly than the controls.

So here’s the take-home: Developing an anti-tau antibody for treatment of PSP may also help Parkinson’s. We already expect that it may help Alzheimer’s because that’s clearly a tau disorder. But now, the synergistic toxicity of tau and α-synuclein could also allow a single anti-tau antibody to protect against both Parkinson’s and dementia with Lewy bodies (which also has aggregation of both proteins).

If I were the drug companies, I’d be sitting up and taking notice. Two companies, Bristol-Myers Squibb and AbbVie (licensing an antibody from C2N) have already started anti-tau antibody trials in people with PSP. Others have anti-tau programs in progress.

This new report, which may extend the utility of those products to Parkinson’s, should give that snowball an extra push.