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Tau is a protein found in the brain. It plays critical roles in nerve axon stability and the transport of mitochondria, lipids, and cellular metabolites in the brain. New evidence suggests that high dietary salt intake increases the formation of tau tangles.

Tau tangles are abnormal aggregates of tau protein that form when tau undergoes hyperphosphorylation. The formation of tau tangles is an early event in the pathogenesis of several neurodegenerative disorders, including Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

The authors of the study fed mice either a normal diet or a high salt diet for four to 36 weeks. They measured cerebral blood flow and levels of hyperphosphorylated tau in the mice’s brains.

After the mice had eaten the high salt diet for 12 weeks, levels of hyperphosphorylated tau increased. The mice showed difficulty in recognizing new objects, and their spatial memory waned. However, providing the mice arginine prevented the cognitive impairments associated with the high salt diet. Arginine is a precursor to nitric oxide, a potent endogenous vasodilator that plays a role in maintaining tau protein stability.

These findings suggest that a high salt diet promotes tau hyperphosphorylation and subsequent formation of tau tangles, likely due to reduced levels of nitric oxide. The authors of the study suggested that reducing salt intake may prevent the formation of tau tangles.

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