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Tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) plays a central role in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) pathology, making biologic TNF-α inhibitors (TNFIs), including etanercept, viable therapeutics for AD. The protective effects of biologic TNFIs on AD hallmark pathology (Aβ deposition and tau pathology) have been demonstrated. However, the effects of biologic TNFIs on Aβ-independent tau pathology have not been reported. Existing biologic TNFIs do not cross the blood–brain barrier (BBB), therefore we engineered a BBB-penetrating biologic TNFI by fusing the extracellular domain of the type-II human TNF-α receptor (TNFR) to a transferrin receptor antibody (TfRMAb) that ferries the TNFR into the brain via receptor-mediated transcytosis. The present study aimed to investigate the effects of TfRMAb-TNFR (BBB-penetrating TNFI) and etanercept (non-BBB-penetrating TNFI) in the PS19 transgenic mouse model of tauopathy.


Six-month-old male and female PS19 mice were injected intraperitoneally with saline (n = 12), TfRMAb-TNFR (1.75 mg/kg, n = 10) or etanercept (0.875 mg/kg, equimolar dose of TNFR, n = 10) 3 days/week for 8 weeks. Age-matched littermate wild-type mice served as additional controls. Blood was collected at baseline and 8 weeks for a complete blood count. Locomotion hyperactivity was assessed by the open-field paradigm. Brains were examined for phosphorylated tau lesions (Ser202, Thr205), microgliosis, and neuronal health. The plasma pharmacokinetics were evaluated following a single intraperitoneal injection of 0.875 mg/kg etanercept or 1.75 mg/kg TfRMAb-TNFR or 1.75 mg/kg chronic TfRMAb-TNFR dosing for 4 weeks.


Etanercept significantly reduced phosphorylated tau and microgliosis in the PS19 mouse brains of both sexes, while TfRMAb-TNFR significantly reduced these parameters in the female PS19 mice. Both TfRMAb-TNFR and etanercept treatment improved neuronal health by significantly increasing PSD95 expression and attenuating hippocampal neuron loss in the PS19 mice. The locomotion hyperactivity in the male PS19 mice was suppressed by chronic etanercept treatment. Equimolar dosing resulted in eightfold lower plasma exposure of the TfRMAb-TNFR compared with etanercept. The hematological profiles remained largely stable following chronic biologic TNFI dosing except for a significant increase in platelets with etanercept.


Both TfRMAb-TNFR (BBB-penetrating) and non-BBB-penetrating (etanercept) biologic TNFIs showed therapeutic effects in the PS19 mouse model of tauopathy.


This article was originally published in Journal of Neuroinflammation, volume 18, in 2021.


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