Persistent neuropathological effects 14 years following amyloid-β immunisation in Alzheimer’s disease

James A R Nicoll, George R Buckland, Charlotte H Harrison, Anton Page, Scott Harris, Seth Love, James W Neal, Clive Holmes, Delphine Boche

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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We performed a 15-year post-mortem neuropathological follow-up of patients in the first trial of amyloid-β immunotherapy for Alzheimer’s disease. Twenty-two participants of a clinical trial of active amyloid-β42 immunisation (AN1792, Elan Pharmaceuticals) or placebo were studied. Comprehensive post-mortem neuropathological assessments were performed from 4 months to 15 years after the trial. We analysed the relationships between the topographical distribution of amyloid-β removal from the cerebral cortex and tau pathology, cerebrovascular territories, plasma anti-AN1792 antibody titres and late cognitive status.
Seventeen of 22 (77%) participants had Alzheimer’s neuropathological change, whereas five of 22 (23%) had alternative causes for dementia (progressive supranuclear palsy = 1, Lewy body disease = 1, vascular brain injury = 1, and frontotemporal lobar degeneration = 2). Nineteen of the 22 participants had received the active agent, three the placebo. Fourteen of 16 (88%) Alzheimer’s disease patients receiving the active agent had evidence of plaque removal (very extensive removal = 5, intermediate = 4, very limited = 5, no removal = 2). Of particular note, two Alzheimer’s patients who died 14 years after immunisation had only very sparse or no detectable plaques in all regions examined. There was a significant inverse correlation between post-vaccination peripheral blood anti-AN1792 antibody titres and post-mortem plaque scores (=-0.664, p=0.005). Cortical foci cleared of plaques contained less tau than did cortex with remaining plaques, but the overall distribution of tangles was extensive (Braak V/VI).
In conclusion, Alzheimer’s patients actively immunised against amyloid-β can remain virtually plaque–free for 14 years. The extent of plaque removal is related to the immune response. This long duration of efficacy is important in support of active immunisation protocols as therapy for, or potentially prevention of, neurodegeneration-associated protein accumulations. Inclusion of patients without Alzheimer’s disease in Alzheimer’s therapy trials is a problem for assessing the efficacy of treatment. Despite modification of Alzheimer’s pathology, most patients had progressed to severe dementia, notably including the five with very extensive plaque removal, possibly due to continued tau propagation. Neuropathology follow-up of patients in therapeutic trials provides valuable information on the causes of dementia and effects of treatment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2113–2126
Number of pages14
Issue number7
Early online date3 Jun 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 Jun 2019


  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • dementia
  • immunotherapy
  • neuropathology
  • amyloid-β

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