To examine the occurrence of tau pathology in the olfactory system in aged subjects and its relation to the severity of Alzheimer disease (AD) pathology.
273 autopsy cases (167 female, 106 male, aged 61-102, mean 83.2+/-4.5 SD years) underwent a standard neuropathological assessment with immuno-histochemical study of tau and Abeta amyloid in the olfactory bulb and nerve, and diagnosis of AD using established consensus criteria including Braak staging of neuritic AD pathology.
All cases of definite AD (Braak stages 5 and 6, n = 96) showed large numbers of neuropil threads and neurofibrillary tangles, with amyloid deposits in 50%, and neuritic plaques only in two cases. Braak stage 4 (n = 73) was associated with tau pathology in the olfactory system in 90.4 and amyloid deposits in 9%, Braak stage 3 (n = 56) with mainly mild to moderate olfactory tau lesions in 44.6 and Abeta deposits in 9%. Braak stage 2 (n = 22) showed olfactory tau pathology in 36.4% without amyloid deposits, whereas Braak stages 0 and 1 (n = 25) were all negative. Olfactory tau pathology showed highly significant correlation with neuritic Braak staging in the brain, while both scores showed significant but low correlation with age.
These data confirm previous studies demonstrating considerable tau pathology in the olfactory system in all definite AD cases, in more than 2/3 of limbic AD and in more than 1/3 of elderly individuals with or without mild cognitive impairment associated with Braak stage 2. Clinical dementia correlated with both Braak and olfactory tau scores, indicating that both are associated with a high risk of cognitive decline.