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J Neurochem. 2007 Dec;103(6):2529-39. Epub 2007 Oct 1.

Split GFP complementation assay: a novel approach to quantitatively measure aggregation of tau in situ: effects of GSK3beta activation and caspase 3 cleavage.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, Alabama, USA.


To quantitatively measure tau aggregation in situ, we established a cell model system using a split green fluorescence protein (GFP) complementation assay. In this assay the more aggregated the protein of interest the lower the GFP fluorescence. Tau microtubule-binding domain constructs, whose aggregation characteristics have been described previously (Khlistunova et al. 2006), were used to validate the assay. The aggregation-prone construct exhibited the lowest GFP intensity whereas the aggregation-resistant construct showed the highest GFP intensity. To examine the role of glycogen synthase kinase 3beta (GSK3beta) activity and caspase 3 cleavage on tau aggregation, GFP complementation of full length (T4), caspase-cleaved (T4C3), and pseudophosphorylated at S396/S404 (T4-2EC) tau was examined in the presence of an active or a kinase-dead GSK3beta. Extensive phosphorylation of T4 by GSK3beta resulted in increased GFP intensity. T4C3 showed neither efficient phosphorylation nor a significant GFP intensity change by GSK3beta. The GFP intensity of T4-2EC was significantly reduced by GSK3beta accompanying its presence in the sarkosyl-insoluble fraction, thus demonstrating that T4-2EC was partitioning into aggregates. This indicates that if the majority of tau is phosphorylated at S396/S404, in combination with increased GSK3beta activity, tau aggregation is favored. These data demonstrate that split GFP complementation may be a valuable approach to determine the aggregation process in living cells.

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