How do T cells contribute to the progression of FTD?

Researchers in Southampton are investigating how the build-up of tau protein can trigger brain inflammation

Researching

Causes

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) is the second most common form of dementia in people under the age of 65. Scientists think that, in some types of FTD, a build-up of tau protein in the brain triggers an immune response leading to severe brain inflammation. This can damage healthy brain cells, weakening the connections between them. These connections are vital for everything that we think, feel and do, and their disruption is what causes the symptoms of dementia. 

The resident immune cells in the brain are called microglia, but in FTD other immune cells can infiltrate the brain from the blood. This study will shed light on the interplay between immune cells from the blood and those in the brain. 

Prof Delphine Boche and her team will zero in on role of T cells. These cells are usually found in the blood, but they have been identified in the brains of people who have died with FTD.

This study will help scientists to piece together the complex picture of what happens in the brain during the disease. A detailed knowledge of the biology of this disease is key to the development of new treatments to help those affected and their families.

The project aims to reveal more about the link between tau build-up, T cell infiltration in the brain, and inflammation in FTD.

The team will look at the brains of 93 people who died with a brain disease involving the build-up of tau. The researchers will compare these brain samples to those of 50 people who died without a brain disease. Using chemical techniques, they will look at how the amount of tau affects the number of T cells that have infiltrated the brain and if the number of T cells is linked to the amount of inflammation.

The team will also work with mice with features of FTD to understand how T cells change the brain environment and play a role in disease progression. A detailed understanding of the changes that occur will help in the search for treatments that could slow the development of FTD.

“Research is helping us to learn more than ever about what happens in the brain in the diseases that cause dementia, but there are still key unanswered questions we need to tackle.

“The role inflammation plays in disease is a growing area and this ground-breaking project could lead to novel targets for potential Alzheimer’s drugs.”

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Awarded to
Prof Delphine Boche

Institution
University of Southampton

Current Award
£483,372.84

Dates
1 September 2018 - 31 August 2021

Full project name
Interplay between T cell immunity and innate neuroinflammation in primary Tauopathies