Alberto Serrano-Pozo, Christopher M. William, Isidro Ferrer, Emmanuelle Uro-Coste, Marie-Bernadette Delisle, Claude-Alain Maurage, Christoph Hock, Roger M. Nitsch, Eliezer Masliah, John H. Growdon, Matthew P. Frosch and Bradley T. Hyman
Anti-amyloid-β immunization leads to amyloid clearance in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, but the effect of vaccination on amyloid-β-induced neuronal pathology has not been quantitatively examined. The objectives of this study were to address the effects of anti-amyloid-β active immunization on neurite trajectories and the pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease in the human hippocampus. Hippocampal sections from five patients with Alzheimer’s disease enrolled in the AN1792 Phase 2a trial were compared with those from 13 non-immunized Braak-stage and age-matched patients with Alzheimer’s disease, and eight age-matched non-demented controls. Analyses included neurite curvature ratio as a quantitative measure of neuritic abnormalities, amyloid and tau loads, and a quantitative characterization of plaque-associated neuritic dystrophy and astrocytosis. Amyloid load and density of dense-core plaques were decreased in the immunized group compared to non-immunized patients (P < 0.01 and P < 0.001, respectively). The curvature ratio in non-immunized patients with Alzheimer’s disease was elevated compared to non-demented controls (P < 0.0001). In immunized patients, however, the curvature ratio was normalized when compared to non-immunized patients (P < 0.0001), and not different from non-demented controls. In the non-immunized patients, neurites close to dense-core plaques (within 50 µm) were more abnormal than those far from plaques (i.e. beyond 50 µm) (P < 0.0001). By contrast, in the immunized group neurites close to and far from the remaining dense-core plaques did not differ, and both were straighter compared to the non-immunized patients (P < 0.0001). Compared to non-immunized patients, dense-core plaques remaining after immunization had similar degree of astrocytosis (P = 0.6060), more embedded dystrophic neurites (P < 0.0001) and were more likely to have mitochondrial accumulation (P < 0.001). In addition, there was a significant decrease in the density of paired helical filament-1-positive neurons in the immunized group as compared to the non-immunized (P < 0.05), but not in the density of Alz50 or thioflavin-S positive tangles, suggesting a modest effect of anti-amyloid-β immunization on tangle pathology. Clearance of amyloid plaques upon immunization with AN1792 effectively improves a morphological measure of neurite abnormality in the hippocampus. This improvement is not just attributable to the decrease in plaque load, but also occurs within the halo of the remaining dense-core plaques. However, these remaining plaques still retain some of their toxic potential. Anti-amyloid-β immunization might also ameliorate the hippocampal tau pathology through a decrease in tau phosphorylation. These data agree with preclinical animal studies and further demonstrate that human anti-amyloid-β immunization does not merely clear amyloid from the Alzheimer’s disease brain, but reduces some of the neuronal alterations that characterize Alzheimer’s disease.