Publications & Posters

Elevated plasma p-tau181 levels unrelated to Alzheimer’s disease pathology in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry | April 3, 2023

Vacchiano, V., Mastrangelo, A., Zenesini, C., Baiardi, S., Avoni, P., Polischi, B., Capellari, S., Salvi, F., Liguori, R., Parchi, P., & BoReALS group

Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry. 2023


Background Phosphorylated-tau181 (p-tau181), a specific marker of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) pathology, was found elevated in plasma but not in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) of patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). We expanded these findings in a larger patient cohort, exploring clinical/electrophysiological associations, prognostic value and longitudinal trajectories of the biomarker.

Methods We obtained baseline plasma samples from 148 ALS, 12 spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), and 88 AD patients, and 60 healthy controls. Baseline CSF and longitudinal plasma samples were from 130 and 39 patients with ALS. CSF AD markers were measured with the Lumipulse platform, and plasma p-tau181 with SiMoA.

Results Patients with ALS showed higher plasma p-tau181 levels than controls (p<0.001) and lower than AD participants (p=0.02). SMA patients had higher levels than controls (p=0.03). In patients with ALS, CSF p-tau and plasma p-tau181 did not correlate (p=0.37). Plasma p-tau181 significantly increased with the number of regions showing clinical/neurophysiological lower motor neurons (LMN) signs (p=0.007) and correlated with the degree of denervation in the lumbosacral area (r=0.51, p<0.0001). Plasma p-tau181 levels were higher in classic and LMN-predominant than in bulbar phenotype (p=0.004 and p=0.006). Multivariate Cox regression confirmed plasma p-tau181 as an independent prognostic factor in ALS (HR 1.90, 95% CI 1.25 to 2.90, p=0.003). Longitudinal analysis showed a significant rise in plasma p-tau181 values over time, especially in fast progressors.

Conclusions Plasma p-tau181 is elevated in patients with ALS, independently from CSF levels, and is firmly associated with LMN dysfunction. The finding indicates that p-tau181 of putative peripheral origin might represent a confounding factor in using plasma p-tau181 for AD pathology screening, which deserves further investigation.