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J Alzheimers Dis. 2011;23(3):513-20. doi: 10.3233/JAD-2010-101386.

Tau cleavage at D421 by caspase-3 is induced in neurons and astrocytes infected with herpes simplex virus type 1.

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  • 1Institute of Clinical Microbiology, Faculty of Medicine, University Austral of Chile, Valdivia, Chile.


Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 (HSV-1) is ubiquitous, neurotropic, and the most common pathogenic causes of sporadic acute encephalitis in humans. Herpes simplex encephalitis is associated with a high mortality rate and significant neurological, neuropsychological, and neurobehavioral sequelae, which afflict patients for life. HSV-1 infects limbic system structures in the central nervous system and has been suggested as an environmental risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. However, the possible mechanisms that link HSV-1 infection with the neurodegenerative process are still largely unknown. In a previous study we demonstrated that HSV-1 triggers hyperphosphorylation of tau epitopes serine202/threonine205 and serine396/serine404 in neuronal cultures, resembling what occurs in neurodegenerative diseases. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to evaluate at the cellular level if another event associated with neurodegeneration, such as caspase-3 induced cleavage of tau, could also be triggered by HSV-1 infection in primary neuronal and astrocyte cultures. As expected, induction of caspase-3 activation and cleavage of tau protein at its specific site (aspartic acid 421) was observed by Western blot and immunofluorescence analyses in mice neuronal primary cultures infected with HSV-1. In agreement with our previous study on tau hyperphosphorylation, tau cleavage was also observed during the first 4 hours of infection, before neuronal death takes place. This tau processing has been previously demonstrated to increase the kinetics of tau aggregation in vitro and has also been observed in neurodegenerative pathologies. In conclusion, our findings support the idea that HSV-1 could contribute to induce neurodegenerative processes in age-associated pathologies such as Alzheimer's disease.

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