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J Biol Chem. 2005 Feb 4;280(5):3628-35. Epub 2004 Nov 2.

Anthraquinones inhibit tau aggregation and dissolve Alzheimer's paired helical filaments in vitro and in cells.

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  • 1Max-Planck-Unit for Structural Molecular Biology, Notkestrasse 85, 22607 Hamburg, Germany.


The abnormal aggregation of tau protein into paired helical filaments (PHFs) is one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease. Aggregation takes place in the cytoplasm and could therefore be cytotoxic for neurons. To find inhibitors of PHF aggregation we screened a library of 200,000 compounds. The hits found in the PHF inhibition assay were also tested for their ability to dissolve preformed PHFs. The results were obtained using a thioflavin S fluorescence assay for the detection and quantification of tau aggregation in solution, a tryptophan fluorescence assay using tryptophan-containing mutants of tau, and confirmed by a pelleting assay and electron microscopy of the products. Here we demonstrate the feasibility of the approach with several compounds from the family of anthraquinones, including emodin, daunorubicin, adriamycin, and others. They were able to inhibit PHF formation with IC50 values of 1-5 microm and to disassemble preformed PHFs at DC50 values of 2-4 microm. The compounds had a similar activity for PHFs made from different tau isoforms and constructs. The compounds did not interfere with the stabilization of microtubules by tau. Tau-inducible neuroblastoma cells showed the formation of tau aggregates and concomitant cytotoxicity, which could be prevented by inhibitors. Thus, small molecule inhibitors could provide a basis for the development of tools for the treatment of tau pathology in AD and other tauopathies.

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