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Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2004 Jul 2;319(3):993-1000.

The retinoic acid and brain-derived neurotrophic factor differentiated SH-SY5Y cell line as a model for Alzheimer's disease-like tau phosphorylation.

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Karolinska Institutet, Neurotec Department, Division of Experimental Geriatrics, Novum, S-141 86, Huddinge, Sweden.


The paired helical filaments of highly phosphorylated tau protein are the main components of neurofibrillary tangles (NFT) in Alzheimer's disease (AD). Protein kinases including glycogen synthase kinase 3 beta (GSK3beta), cyclin-dependent kinase 5 (Cdk5), and c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) have been implicated in NFT formation making the use of selective kinase inhibitors an attractive treatment possibility in AD. When sequentially treated with retinoic acid (RA) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), the human neuroblastoma SH-SY5Y differentiates to neuron-like cells. We found that coincident with morphologically evident neurite outgrowth, both the content and phosphorylation state of tau increased in RA-BDNF differentiated SH-SY5Y cells. Tau phosphorylation increased at all the examined sites ser-199, ser-202, thr-205, ser-396, and ser-404, all of which are hyperphosphorylated in AD brain. We also investigated whether GSK3beta, Cdk5 or JNK was involved in tau phosphorylation in the differentiated SH-SY5Y cells. We found that GSK3beta contributed most and that Cdk5 made a minor contribution. JNK was not involved in tau phosphorylation in this system. The GSK3beta-inhibitor, lithium, inhibited tau phosphorylation in a concentration-dependent manner and with good reproducibility, which enables ranking of substances in this cell model. RA-BDNF differentiated SH-SY5Y cells could serve as a suitable model for studying the mechanisms of tau phosphorylation and for screening potential GSK3beta inhibitors.

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