Amyloid-β (Aβ) is hypothesized to facilitate the spread of tau pathology beyond the medial temporal lobe. However, there is evidence that, independently of Aβ, age-related tau pathology might be present outside of the medial temporal lobe. We therefore aimed to study age-related Aβ-independent tau deposition outside the medial temporal lobe in two large cohorts and to investigate potential downstream effects of this on cognition and structural measures. We included 545 cognitively unimpaired adults (40-92 years) from the BioFINDER-2 study (in vivo) and 639 (64-108 years) from the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center cohorts (ex vivo). 18F-RO948- and 18F-flutemetamol-PET standardized uptake value ratios were calculated for regional tau and global/regional Aβ in vivo. Immunohistochemistry was used to estimate Aβ load and tangle density ex vivo. In vivo medial temporal lobe volumes (subiculum, cornu ammonis 1) and cortical thickness (entorhinal cortex, Brodmann area 35) were obtained using Automated Segmentation for Hippocampal Subfields packages. Thickness of early and late neocortical Alzheimer's disease regions was determined using FreeSurfer. Global cognition and episodic memory were estimated to quantify cognitive functioning. In vivo age-related tau deposition was observed in the medial temporal lobe and in frontal and parietal cortical regions, which was statistically significant when adjusting for Aβ. This was also observed in individuals with low Aβ load. Tau deposition was negatively associated with cortical volumes and thickness in temporal and parietal regions independently of Aβ. The associations between age and cortical volume or thickness were partially mediated via tau in regions with early Alzheimer's disease pathology, i.e. early tau and/or Aβ pathology (subiculum/Brodmann area 35/precuneus/posterior cingulate). Finally, the associations between age and cognition were partially mediated via tau in Brodmann area 35, even when including Aβ-PET as covariate. Results were validated in the ex vivo cohort showing age-related and Aβ-independent increases in tau aggregates in and outside the medial temporal lobe. Ex vivo age-cognition associations were mediated by medial and inferior temporal tau tangle density, while correcting for Aβ density. Taken together, our study provides support for primary age-related tauopathy even outside the medial temporal lobe in vivo and ex vivo, with downstream effects on structure and cognition. These results have implications for our understanding of the spreading of tau outside the medial temporal lobe, also in the context of Alzheimer's disease. Moreover, this study suggests the potential utility of tau-targeting treatments in primary age-related tauopathy, likely already in preclinical stages in individuals with low Aβ pathology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3192-3205
Number of pages14
JournalBrain : a journal of neurology
Issue number8
Early online date2023 Apr 21
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Aug 1

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Gerontology, specializing in Medical and Health Sciences
  • Neurology
  • Geriatrics

Free keywords

  • ageing
  • amyloid-beta
  • autoradiography
  • medial temporal lobe subregions
  • MRI
  • PART
  • tau-PET imaging


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