In vivo measurement of glutamate loss is associated with synapse loss in a mouse model of tauopathy.

PMID 25003815


Glutamate is the primary excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain, and is implicated in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease (AD) and several other tauopathies. The current method for measuring glutamate in vivo is proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy ((1)H MRS), although it has poor spatial resolution and weak sensitivity to glutamate changes. In this study, we sought to measure the effect of tau pathology on glutamate levels throughout the brain of a mouse model of tauopathy using a novel magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique. We employed glutamate chemical exchange saturation transfer (GluCEST) imaging, which has been previously validated as a complimentary method for measuring glutamate levels with several important advantages over conventional (1)H MRS. We hypothesized that the regional changes in glutamate levels would correlate with histological measurements of pathology including pathological tau, synapse and neuron loss. Imaging and spectroscopy were carried out on tau transgenic mice with the P301S mutation (PS19, n=9) and their wild-type littermates (WT, n=8), followed by immunohistochemistry of their brain tissue. GluCEST imaging resolution allowed for sub-hippocampal analysis of glutamate. Glutamate was significantly decreased by 29% in the CA sub-region of the PS19 hippocampus, and by 15% in the thalamus, where synapse loss was also measured. Glutamate levels and synapse density remained high in the dentate gyrus sub-region of the hippocampus, where neurogenesis is known to occur. The further development of GluCEST imaging for preclinical applications will be valuable, as therapies are being tested in mouse models of tauopathy.