Histopathological assessment of atroglial aquaporin-4 expression in chronic traumatic encephalopathy
Babcock, Katharine Jane
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BACKGROUND: The accumulation of misfolded proteins is a hallmark of many neurodegenerative disorders, including Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Intracellular protein degradation pathways appear to be insufficient in preventing or halting disease progression. A brain-wide waste clearance pathway mediated by astroglial aquaporin-4 (AQP4) water channels in the perivascular space called the “glymphatic system” has recently been identified. Disruption of this system due to mislocalization of AQP4 away from perivascular astrocytic endfeet (“depolarization”) is linked to reductions in solute clearance and the build up of toxic metabolites in different neurologic conditions associated with aging and traumatic brain injury. Accumulation of aggregated tau protein around blood vessels at the depths of cortical sulci is considered the pathognomonic lesion of CTE, and may reflect impairment of glymphatic pathway function in these perivascular spaces. OBJECTIVES: To investigate whether changes in AQP4 expression or perivascular AQP4 polarization are present in CTE and to assess their relationship with CTE lesions. Additionally, AQP4 expression in CTE will be compared to subjects with a pathological diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and non-pathological controls without a history of head trauma. METHODS: Postmortem frontal cortex samples from neuropatholigcally confirmed cases of CTE, AD, and non-pathological controls were provided by the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank. Fixed tissue samples were cut at 20 microns from each case and immunofluorescently stained for AQP4, glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), and phosphorylated tau (AT-8). Slides were imaged using a Zeiss 880 Airyscan confocal microscope and analyzed using the HALO image software analysis platform. RESULTS: Increased perivascular AQP4 polarization was significantly associated with lesional vessels compared to non-lesional vessels in CTE (p=0.0187). When assessed between groups, CTE showed less AQP4 polarization surrounding non-lesional vessels compared to controls, and seemingly higher polarization around lesional vessels compared to AD, however these differences were not statistically significant. CONCLUSIONS: Blood brain barrier (BBB) breakdown is a common occurrence following traumatic brain injury (TBI) and has previously been confirmed in postmortem cases of CTE. The findings reported in the current study showing increased, rather than decreased, perivascular AQP4 polarization around lesional vessels compared to non-lesional vessels in CTE may therefore reflect a compensatory mechanism of astrocytes in response to secondary vasogenic edema in the face of chronic inflammation and disrupted BBB integrity, rather than acute cytotoxic edema which is likely the main driver of AQP4 depolarization reported in previous studies.