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Reversible formation of PHF-like phosphorylated tau, an early feature of Alzheimer's disease (AD) was previously shown to occur in torpor during hibernation in the Golden hamster (Syrian hamster, Mesocricetus auratus). Here, we tackled the question to what extent hibernating Golden hamsters can serve as a model for the early stage of AD. During early AD, anosmia, the loss of olfactory function, is a common and typical feature. We, thus, investigated tau phosphorylation, synaptic plasticity and behavioral physiology of the olfactory system during hibernation. Tau was phosphorylated on several AD-relevant epitopes, and distribution of PHF-like phosphorylated tau in the olfactory bulb was quite similar to what is seen in AD. Tau phosphorylation was not associated with a destabilization of microtubules and did not lead to fibril formation. Previously, we observed a transient spine reduction in pyramidal cells in the hippocampus, which is correlated with the distribution of phosphorylated tau. Here we show that granule cells in the olfactory bulb are devoid of phosphorylated tau and maintain their spines number during torpor. No reduction of synaptic proteins was observed. However, hibernation did impair the recall performance in a two-odor discrimination task. We conclude that hibernation is associated with a specific olfactory memory deficit, which might not be attributed to the formation of PHF-like phosphorylated tau within the olfactory bulb. We discuss a possible involvement of modulatory input provided by cholinergic neurons in the basal forebrain, which are affected by hibernation.

Original publication




Journal article


Front Neuroanat

Publication Date





Alzheimer’s disease, memory, microtubule associated protein tau, protein phosphorylation, spines, torpor