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J Neurosci. 2002 Nov 15;22(22):9733-41.

Tau-mediated cytotoxicity in a pseudohyperphosphorylation model of Alzheimer's disease.

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Department of Neurobiology, University of Osnabrück, 49076 Osnabrück, Germany.


Aggregation and increased phosphorylation of tau at selected sites ("hyperphosphorylation") are histopathological hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease (AD). However, it is not known whether the tau pathology has a primary role during neuronal degeneration. To determine the role of tau hyperphosphorylation in AD, pseudohyperphosphorylated tau (PHP-tau) that simulates disease-like permanent, high stoichiometric tau phosphorylation and mimics structural and functional aspects of hyperphosphorylated tau was expressed in neural cells. In differentiated PC12 cells, PHP-tau exhibited reduced microtubule interaction and failed to stabilize the microtubule network compared with exogenously expressed wild-type tau (wt-tau). During longer culture, PHP-tau exerted a cytotoxic effect, whereas wt-tau was neutral. PHP-tau-mediated cytotoxicity was associated with an induction of apoptotic cell death as characterized by chromatin condensation, DNA fragmentation, and caspase-3 activation in the absence of detectable protein aggregates. Furthermore, PHP-tau expression specifically sensitized the cells for other apoptotic stimuli (colchicine and staurosporine). Herpes simplex virus-mediated overexpression of PHP-tau induced degeneration associated with an induction of apoptotic mechanisms also in terminally differentiated human CNS model neurons. Partially pseudophosphorylated constructs caused an intermediate toxicity. The data provide evidence for a neurotoxic "gain of function" of soluble tau during AD as a result of structural changes that are induced by a cumulative, high stoichiometric tau phosphorylation. PHP-tau-expressing cells and organisms could provide a useful system to identify mechanisms that contribute to tau-mediated toxicity.

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