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Brain Res. 2001 Dec 7;921(1-2):31-43.

Tau phosphorylation during apoptosis of human SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL 35294-0017, USA.


In Alzheimer's Disease brain, the microtubule-associated protein tau is hyperphosphorylated at specific epitopes and abnormally aggregates into filamentous structures. In addition, there is significant neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's disease brain, and there is data to suggest that apoptotic-like processes may contribute to the neurodegeneration. It has been demonstrated that in PC12 cells undergoing apoptosis due trophic factor removal, tau is hyperphosphorylated prior to chromatin condensation. To establish that increased tau phosphorylation is a generalized outcome of the apoptotic process, and to examine the involvement of the protein kinase in these events, apoptosis was induced in retinoic-acid differentiated human SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells using the topoisomerase-1 inhibitor camptothecin. Treatment of the differentiated SH-SY5Y cells with camptothecin resulted in a time and concentration dependent activation of caspase-3 with a concomitant increase in the presence of apoptotic nuclei. Immunoblotting revealed that camptothecin treatment resulted in a significant increase in tau phosphorylation. Addition of a cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor reduced camptothecin-induced cell death in the differentiated SH-SY5Y cells and decreased the effects of camptothecin on tau phosphorylation. In contrast, a general caspase inhibitor decreased camptothecin-induced cell death, but did not significantly decrease the increases in tau phosphorylation. These results suggest that increased tau phosphorylation is likely a generalized outcome of apoptotic processes in neuron-related cells, and that cyclin-dependent kinases probably play a role in this process.

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