Cross-sectional associations of tau protein biomarkers with semantic and episodic memory in older adults without dementia: A systematic review and meta-analysis

T.A.D. Pelgrim, M. Beran, E.L. Twait, M.I. Geerlings, J.M.J. Vonk*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review


Pathological tau is suggested to play a role in cognitive deterioration in the preclinical phase of Alzheimer's disease. We investigated cross-sectional associations of tau burden with episodic and semantic memory performance in older adults without dementia. A systematic search in MEDLINE (via PubMed), PsychINFO, and Embase resulted in 24 eligible studies for meta-analysis. Tau burden was assessed using CSF, PET, or histopathological measures. All studies evaluated associations of tau with episodic memory: weighted effect sizes were -0.46 (95 % CI [-0.73; -0.20], p < .001) for episodic composite scores, -0.19 ([-0.36; -0.03], p = .024) for delayed word list recall, and -0.05 ([-0.14; 0.04], p = .257) for logical memory. Fourteen studies evaluated associations of tau with semantic memory: weighted effect sizes were -0.28 ([-0.52; -0.04], p = .023) for semantic composite scores, -0.06 ([-0.16; 0.03], p = .194) for semantic fluency, and 0.06 ([-0.06; 0.18], p = .319) for picture naming. Our findings indicate that tau burden related to both episodic and semantic memory impairment in older individuals without a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment or manifest dementia, with episodic composite scores showing the strongest association with tau burden. Future potential lies in developing more sensitive scores to detect this subtle cognitive impairment, which could contribute to early identification of individuals in the preclinical phase of Alzheimer's disease, thereby improving early diagnosis and timely intervention.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101449
Number of pages15
JournalAgeing Research Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2021


  • Dementia
  • Preclinical
  • PET
  • Neuropathology
  • Neuropsychology
  • Cognition
  • BETA
  • AGE
  • CSF

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