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Hum Mol Genet. 2011 Dec 15;20(24):4947-77. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddr432. Epub 2011 Sep 23.

Functional genomic screen and network analysis reveal novel modifiers of tauopathy dissociated from tau phosphorylation.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, University of Texas Medical Branch, 301 University Blvd., MRB 10.138, Galveston, TX 77555, USA.


A functional genetic screen using loss-of-function and gain-of-function alleles was performed to identify modifiers of tau-induced neurotoxicity using the 2N/4R (full-length) isoform of wild-type human tau expressed in the fly retina. We previously reported eye pigment mutations, which create dysfunctional lysosomes, as potent modifiers; here, we report 37 additional genes identified from ∼1900 genes screened, including the kinases shaggy/GSK-3beta, par-1/MARK, CamKI and Mekk1. Tau acts synergistically with Mekk1 and p38 to down-regulate extracellular regulated kinase activity, with a corresponding decrease in AT8 immunoreactivity (pS202/T205), suggesting that tau can participate in signaling pathways to regulate its own kinases. Modifiers showed poor correlation with tau phosphorylation (using the AT8, 12E8 and AT270 epitopes); moreover, tested suppressors of wild-type tau were equally effective in suppressing toxicity of a phosphorylation-resistant S11A tau construct, demonstrating that changes in tau phosphorylation state are not required to suppress or enhance its toxicity. Genes related to autophagy, the cell cycle, RNA-associated proteins and chromatin-binding proteins constitute a large percentage of identified modifiers. Other functional categories identified include mitochondrial proteins, lipid trafficking, Golgi proteins, kinesins and dynein and the Hsp70/Hsp90-organizing protein (Hop). Network analysis uncovered several other genes highly associated with the functional modifiers, including genes related to the PI3K, Notch, BMP/TGF-β and Hedgehog pathways, and nuclear trafficking. Activity of GSK-3β is strongly upregulated due to TDP-43 expression, and reduced GSK-3β dosage is also a common suppressor of Aβ42 and TDP-43 toxicity. These findings suggest therapeutic targets other than mitigation of tau phosphorylation.

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