Copper Modulation and Memory Impairment due to Hippocampal Tau Pathology

Christopher J. Harris, Nora E. Gray, Maya Caruso, Marguex Hunter, Martina Ralle, Joseph F. Quinn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: Environmental copper has been implicated in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer's disease based on evidence that: 1) brain copper levels increase with age, 2) copper promotes misfolding and toxicity of amyloid-ß in vitro, 3) copper-modulating interventions reduce amyloid pathology in animal models. However, the effect of copper upon non-amyloid Alzheimer's pathology is relatively under-explored. Objective: To determine if modulation of brain copper level affects brain tau pathology and/or associated cognitive impairment. Methods: We tested the hypothesis that brain copper modulates tau pathology by manipulating brain levels of copper in the PS19 transgenic mouse model of tau pathology. We treated PS19 and wild-type mice with oral zinc acetate, an established therapy for long term control of excess brain copper, and examined treatment effects upon brain copper, brain tau, NFT-like pathology, and spatial memory. We treated a second cohort of mice with exogenous dietary copper in order to evaluate whether excess environmental copper promotes brain tau pathology. Results: Copper-lowering with oral zinc attenuated spatial memory impairment in female but not male PS19 mice, without a significant effect upon tau pathology. Copper loading increased brain copper, but did not have an effect on brain tau pathology or spatial memory function. Conclusion: These findings suggest that a strategy to lower brain copper may be viable for symptomatic benefit in the setting of tau neuropathology, but unlikely to have robust effects on the underlying pathology. These findings are consistent with dietary or other exogenous copper being unlikely to promote tau pathology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-60
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Alzheimer's Disease
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2020


  • Copper
  • neurofibrillary tangles
  • tau
  • zinc

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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