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J Biol Chem. 1997 Dec 26;272(52):33118-24.

Alzheimer-like changes in microtubule-associated protein Tau induced by sulfated glycosaminoglycans. Inhibition of microtubule binding, stimulation of phosphorylation, and filament assembly depend on the degree of sulfation.

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  • 1Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 2QH, United Kingdom.


Hyperphosphorylated microtubule-associated protein tau is the major proteinaceous component of the paired helical and straight filaments which constitute a defining neuropathological characteristic of Alzheimer's disease and a number of other neurodegenerative disorders. We have recently shown that full-length recombinant tau assembles into Alzheimer-like filaments upon incubation with heparin. Heparin also promotes phosphorylation of tau by a number of protein kinases, prevents tau from binding to taxol-stabilized microtubules, and produces rapid disassembly of microtubules assembled from tau and tubulin. Here, we have used the above parameters to study the interactions between tau protein and a number of naturally occurring and synthetic glycosaminoglycans. We show that the magnitude of the glycosaminoglycan effects is proportional to their degree of sulfation. Thus, the strongly sulfated glycosaminoglycans dextran sulfate, pentosan polysulfate, and heparin were the most potent, whereas the non-sulfated dextran and hyaluronic acid were without effect. The moderately sulfated glycosaminoglycans heparan sulfate, chondroitin sulfate, and dermatan sulfate had intermediate effects, whereas keratan sulfate had little or no effect. These in vitro interactions between tau protein and sulfated glycosaminoglycans reproduced the known characteristics of paired helical filament-tau from Alzheimer's disease brain. Sulfated glycosaminoglycans are present in nerve cells in Alzheimer's disease brain in the early stages of neurofibrillary degeneration, suggesting that their interactions with tau may constitute a central event in the development of the neuronal pathology of Alzheimer's disease.

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