Close this search box.

Could P-tau181 Unseat Neurofilament Light Chain as a Dementia Biomarker?

lab technician holding blood tube test in front of other tests

Like with all chronic conditions, dementia treatment is often more effective when doctors are able to detect the disease early in its onset. Early detection allows patients to receive more information, more resources, and more support before the condition begins to impact their daily life. Now, new research from the National University of Ireland (NIU) Galway and Boston University suggests that P-tau181, a blood biomarker, could help diagnose individuals with dementia – even before the onset of symptoms. This could change researchers’ approach to standard dementia biomarkers, including the neurofilament light chain.

lab technician holding blood tube test in front of other tests

Why Early Dementia Biomarkers Matter

As mentioned above, early dementia diagnosis can have a strong positive impact on patient outcomes. For example, the UK’s Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) suggests that an early diagnosis can help individuals with dementia continue to live independently for longer. SCIE also suggests that both drug and non-drug treatment can be more effective the earlier an individual is diagnosed. Now, research from NUI Galway and Boston University suggests a more effective biomarker for early dementia diagnosis: P-tau181.

What Is P-tau181?

Science Daily reports on a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in which NUI Galway and Boston University researchers explored the role of P-tau181, a phosphorylated form of the microtubule-stabilizing protein, as a biomarker for dementia symptoms. This study is far from the first time researchers have evaluated P-tau181’s biomarker efficacy; previous studies have shown that both plasma P-tau181 and P-tau231 levels may be used as cost-effective biomarkers to assess cognitive decline in individuals with Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB). DLB is the second-most common degenerative dementia after Alzheimer’s. But now, the NUI Galway and Boston University researchers have proven that the presence of P-tau181 may also serve as an Alzheimer’s indicator.

How P-tau181 Compares with the Neurofilament Light Chain Method

The researchers measured the success of P-tau181 in predicting signs of ß-amyloid, the protein often associated with Alzheimer’s development, on brain scans. They then compared the biomarker’s performance against two other popular clinical biomarkers, including the neurofilament light chain (NFL) method, which is used to evaluate a number of degenerative neurological conditions.

To accomplish this, the researchers assessed blood levels of P-tau181 in “52 cognitively healthy adults.” The researchers followed up with brain scans an average of seven years later, evaluating the cognitive status of the adults who had received the blood tests. Ultimately, the researchers found that elevated levels of P-tau181 in the blood were associated with increased ß-amyloid in the years following the initial blood test. In fact, P-tau181 outperformed the two other biomarkers – glial fibrillary acidic protein and neurofilament light chain – in predicting signs of ß-amyloid.

Implications of the Research

The lead author of the study was Emer McGrath, Associate Professor at the College of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences at NUI Galway and Consultant Neurologist at Saolta University Health Care Group. “The results of this study are very promising,” McGrath told Science Daily. “P-tau181 has the potential to help us identify individuals at high risk of dementia at a very early stage of the disease, before they develop memory difficulties or changes in behavior.” Ultimately, biomarkers like these can aid in early detection – which generally leads to better patient outcomes.


Ideally, the new research on P-tau181 could improve patient outcomes for individuals at risk of dementia. It could also have broader clinical outcomes, allowing researchers to identify participants for further research into dementia therapies. The more researchers lean into findings like these, the better chance they have at effectively treating neurodegenerative conditions moving forward.

Scantox is a part of Scantox, a GLP/GCP-compliant contract research organization (CRO) delivering the highest grade of Discovery, Regulatory Toxicology and CMC/Analytical services since 1977. Scantox focuses on preclinical studies related to central nervous system (CNS) diseases, rare diseases, and mental disorders. With highly predictive disease models available on site and unparalleled preclinical experience, Scantox can handle most CNS drug development needs for biopharmaceutical companies of all sizes. For more information about Scantox, visit www.scantox.com.