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Mol Neurobiol. 1990 Fall-Winter;4(3-4):171-9.

Tau protein and neurodegeneration.

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  • 1Department of Neurology (Neuroscience), Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA.


Many of the human neurodegenerative conditions involve a reorganization of the neuronal cytoskeleton. The way in which the cytoskeleton is reorganized may provide a clue to the nature of the insult causing the neurodegeneration. The most common of these conditions is Alzheimer's disease, in which microtubules are lost from neurites that fill up with filamentous structures. One component of the filamentous structures is the microtubule-associated protein (MAP), tau. The tau protein is the product of a single gene expressed predominantly in neurons. The tau gene undergoes complex alternative splicing that is regulated both by development, and by the particular neuronal cell population in which it is expressed. Tau protein can be further modified, following its translation by phosphorylation at several sites. Much of the recent interest in the transition of tau to an abnormal state within a tangle-bearing neuron has focused on phosphorylation. A group of proteins that migrate slightly more slowly than tau, designated PHF-tau, are found in regions of the Alzheimer brain rich in dystrophic neurites, are hyperphosphorylated, fail to bind to microtubules, have distinct solubility properties, and can be derived from fractions of paired helical filaments (PHF).

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